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Q&A : Dr Jeremy Sofonia – Technical Evangelist at Emesent

5 Mins read

There has been lots on interest in underground drone technologies following the inception of UG Mining Tech, with questions coming in from as far afield as Ghana! We are in the final throws of training and roll out of an Emesent Hovermap at my current project. I personally can’t wait to learn about how this device can help improve dataflow and results underground.

Jeremy underground with the Emesent Hovermap

I caught up with Jeremy Sofonia at the recent UGOPS conference here in Perth. He was an early member of the team at Emesent and it was good to have a chat with him and find out where he thinks the development of the Hovermap LiDAR solution is heading.

Following on from our initial catch up I lined up a Q&A session with him to try and share some insights into this exciting new underground data capture system:

Who are you?

I’m Dr Jeremy Sofonia, Technical Evangelist at Emesent. Originally from the States but have called Australia home for the past twenty years.

What is your story?                                                                                                                        

I’ve been working on a wide variety of projects, all over the world for the last 20 years with a specialisation in remote sensing applications and fieldwork in remote, dangerous and challenging environments.

While I was undertaking my PhD at the University of Queensland, I was introduced to Hovermap. My PhD was focused on the utility of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in Remote Sensing and Hovermap fit right into that space.

It didn’t take long for me to join the Hovermap development team at CSIRO QCAT Data61 facility and I was one of the first seven employees when the company spun-out to commercialize the technology and became Emesent. Since then, I’ve helped expand the adoption of Hovermap to over 25 countries and counting.

My role as Technical Evangelist with Emesent is focused on understanding client needs, promoting technical excellence and building relationships with industry organizations and I enjoy getting out there to see how people are using Hovermap.

What products and ideas have Emesent delivered to underground workflows in recent years?

Emesent has delivered quite a range of products to the underground mining with our Hovermap LiDAR system as the core component. When mounted to a drone, Emesent’s advanced autonomy algorithms have redefined data collection in areas that were previously considered ‘inaccessible’. Hovermap accessories such as our vehicle mounts, cage and backpack further expand on Hovermap’s uniquely versatile deployment capabilities. Emesent’s software, and collaboration with established 3rd-party vendors mean that we can process, merge, and colour point clouds through to their intended deliverables across mining applications.

A Hovermap mobile LiDAR unit mounted on the front of an underground ute

Hovermap helps mining engineers, geotechs, surveyors and geologists make more informed decisions. They are able to quickly and safely capture data of void areas in their mine, including stopes, drawpoints, drifts, ventilation shafts, ore passes, and underground chambers. Using mining software such as Deswik or Maptek, the data delivers more accurate stope volumes, easy identification of drift deformation, characterize geological features with a much higher degree of confidence. These are only a few of the use cases for the rich, high resolution point cloud data produced by Hovermap.

Last week I spoke with a client who is using Hovermap to monitor drift convergence. They scan their drifts with Hovermap on a weekly basis and use our combined camera system to produce true-colour point clouds. These are imported into software, like Deswik, aligned to the mine model, creation of solids and ready for a wide range of analysis. Once in Deswik, the data is easily shared between teams and facilitates efficient collaboration, data storage and management. With Hovermap, the data capture and processing workflows are greatly reduced, and the resultant point clouds provide a more complete representation of the area of interest.

What developments would you like to see in the underground mining environment in the next decade? Will your product line up help achieve this?

Every mining company is implementing new technologies to enable a ‘digital mine’. We’re working to ensure Hovermap will continue to be part of this development, with partnerships and collaborative innovation with our customers.

I would like to see advancements in autonomous robotic systems play an increasing role in helping to keep people safe and provides data that maximises operational efficiency in ore recovery. We’ve recently heard back from a customer who discovered a massive rock hung-up in a stope by a wire and were able to warn the engineering team and able to map fall-of-ground damage while reducing the risk to staff. These sort of feedback is great and I can’t wait to see more.

A quick run down of some of the Hovermap’s key features

Along the way, I think we will continue to see improvements in the efficiency, and quality, of how data is collected and hope that underground communication networks can be improved to support such advancements. Of course, the systems on the surface need to adapt and there’s opportunity for up-skilling personnel as we move forward into the digital age.

Yes, I believe that Emesent’s vision is directly in line with this sort of underground mining future and very much look forward to being part of it.

If you were stuck in a refuge chamber for 7 days what item would you most like for your own comfort and sanity?

Probably my harmonica, but that assumes I’m in there alone – otherwise it may not last long!


This Q&A was very insightful about possible future use cases for a mobile LiDAR solution in the underground environment. It will be interesting to learn more about special case uses as more businesses add this technology to their data capture armoury.

At our project, we have highlighted several fringe areas where it will allow for better quality and more timely data for better informed decisions. As Jeremy suggests this will be an interesting pathway for the device as it is used for multiple different applications and develops more uses across the mine site.

It is also great to see that Emesent have teamed up with mining CAD providers Deswik & Vulcan to allow for seamless integration into existing mining datasets. The use of this data and the management of the larger than ever point clouds will be a journey to closely follow for the keen underground miner.

Thank you to Jeremy and Cecile at Emesent for their time in preparing for and organising this Q&A Session.

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