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Underground drones revolutionise cave and mine mapping

Drones are used in all sorts of situations. They have utility in areas such as geological surveying, agriculture, and oil and gas exploration. But more importantly, drones can be used during rescue operations, as well as more controversial military applications.

Now, autonomous drones explore and map underground cave systems. This is extremely useful for mining operations, as well as for search and rescue situations.

Conventional cavity monitoring systems (CMS) typically involve a camera attached to an extendable, flexible pole. This accesses areas that human workers can’t reach but is still constrained by factors such as the length of the pole from areas that the human operators are able to enter. The CMS collects video and still images that can also be affected by shadows and the shape of cave spaces.

Australian start-up Emesent is aiming to improve on that system with its autonomous Hovermap drones. The drones map underground areas more efficiently than the traditional CMS and also negate the need for human operators to travel too far into cave systems and potentially hazardous areas.

The Hovermap drones are able to autonomously navigate underground systems and gather data using a system called SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping). This enables them to build up a picture of the system they are in while also using the same data for navigation.

mining-drone-manufacturing

Drones use light mapping system called LiDAR
The drones also use a system called LiDAR, which involves bouncing light rays off structures such as cave walls to build up accurate 3D pictures. This provides an improvement over CMS as shadows do not affect the picture that is built up.

The drones can contribute to greater human safety in two ways. Firstly, as mentioned, human CMS operators will no longer have to venture as far into the cave systems in order to deploy the CMS camera equipment. Secondly, according to Mining Technology, the high quality of the drones’ mapping helps to safeguard against errors such as those that contributed to the 2002 Quecreek mine disaster in the US. Nine miners were trapped after breaking into a passage they did not know was there and accidentally flooding the mine.

Emesent now plans to use funding from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). It has already carried out a successful pilot scheme involving companies based in Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the US.

Original article by Tech Data Newsflash, edited by TDConnect editors

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