Underground SLAM-assisted drones for survey data capture have become commonplace at forward-thinking mines in the last couple of years. Multiple operations across the globe now utilise these systems to fly areas of the mine deemed unsafe for human access or inspection.
The industry has seen several different businesses come to market with varying success, however, an industry-standard system has yet to fully corner the market. Technically complex units, often utilising third-party integrations to existing drone systems, are being utilised extensively but often with downtime due to maintenance and support issues.
This can be expected with any new technology, as users push systems to their maximum capabilities. It does, however, leave the door open for new system providers to enter a growing global market with exciting new offerings.
There is a new-to-market offering in the space, that despite being new on the scene should be worth considering if you are evaluating a SLAM-based drone solution in the near term:
Flyability Elios 3
If you have smaller underground workings and/or extensive inspection requirements in your processing facility, then the Elios 3 is worth a look. The third incarnation of the “drone in a cage” now integrates a LiDAR sensor to allow for SLAM-enabled 3-D real-time mapping.
This much smaller drone and payload allow for inspections of even narrower underground cavities, infrastructure, or surface fixed plant. The rugged, external cage set-up also allows for added protection in the unlikely event of a system failure.
Size allows for inspections and scans of narrow vein stopes and potentially even old airleg workings, as the significantly smaller system and reduced thrust, can allow for data deep into the stope.
The down thrust from a drone’s propellers can cause loose material in a stope area to dislodge, causing an uncontrolled hazard for both the operator and the drone.
One drawback in lighter drones can be the inability to fly for a long duration. The Elios can complete flights up to 9 minutes long with the LiDAR sensor attached, making most stope scans a possibility.
Tanks, pipework, and complex supporting structures all become safer and easier to collect point cloud data. The unit also includes a 4K camera for visual inspections and a separate thermal camera for various inspection scenarios.
The additional inbuilt lighting rounds out the offering, allowing for a fully self-contained system with multiple sensors for applications across a mining project.
The Elios 3 looks to be a versatile and well-formed contender for those considering a new drone for their fleet. Those looking to complete both underground and fixed plant inspections would be interested in the additional built-in sensors beyond the primary SLAM enabled LiDAR puck.
If you like my content and discussions on underground mining, please follow me on LinkedIn or Facebook. I continually strive to offer new and interesting content for those exploring new technologies and ideas for underground mining – so please send me an email if you would like to get involved.