Time is money, and both are a currency we can’t afford to lose. For the mining industry, traditional GPS techniques are as slow and outdated as a telegram is to a text message. Downloading data and photographs from Global Positioning Systems could be a chore; good news, then, that is has been consigned to the past by current mapping technology, the best of which is complimented by the soothing buzz of a drone crossing the skies above open-cast projects.
UAVs are making great strides towards boosting operational efficiency and productivity in this sector. Since commercial drones are so easy to use, it takes little effort to send them on their way, figuring out an aircraft’s agility and endurance as the landscape opens up in piercing clarity before you. Although user-friendliness is driving much of the UAV boom, advances in technology are particularly suited to mining purposes because of the time-saving benefits they bring with them. Stockpile volumes, for example, can be measured in minutes. Evaluating terrain can be updated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without hassle, monitoring material quality. Large areas are as manageable as smaller ones – it’s no joke that Australian companies are evaluating millions of tonnes of excavated earth with machines that are the same size as a coffee table.
The thing about drones is that they’re very much a piece of a technological family. The hardware itself is designed to function with an abundance of cameras and applications; software has been designed to correlate with them, streamlining the metamorphosis of raw data into a functional, visual model. 3D maps can thusly be birthed far quicker than any counterpart means of modelling. Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) and Base Maps can be churned out at a rate equal to the development on the ground, with an accuracy to the exact specifications that you need for intelligent analysis to be more than a corporate byword for ‘acceptable’. The earth is a complex organism: it is changed, sometimes forever, by human activity, and it’s important to know (cheaply, of course) how we affect it when mining operations dig into a millennia’s worth of untouched sod.
Determining the wellbeing of us humans is paramount too. Drones can scope a site for dozens of hazards, such as wall erosion, slope stability and the effect of weather conditions on top soil. No longer will an unfortunate safety inspector need to fret about falling boulders; drones are dependable and flexible enough to take over their duties, hovering above the hardhats like a beneficent mother versed in safety textbooks.
So, with the accuracy and speed of UAVs set to transform the operational efficiency of mines around the world, the only question is how much longer the industry at large will take to make drones de rigueur for every undertaking. With familiarity comes affection, and then, potentially, something close to love. If a good relationship can be defined on what is gained from seemingly disparate entities, then mining corporations should be enjoying the first flush of romance with their new partner, and planning the next stages.
For further insight into utilising UAVs within mining make sure you attend SkyTech 2016 at London’s Business Design Centre on the 27-28th January: www.skytechevent.com/