A new system has been developed that can autonomously survey and map underground mines without GPS.
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In recent months, we have seen drones used for construction and repairs in places people have a hard time reaching. These include using drones to construct overhead canopies and a system that uses drones and AI in construction. Now, a new drone system has been designed for use in underground mines. Surveying and mapping of underground mines is a challenging and dangerous task. Traditional instrumentation often require surveyors to enter hazardous areas. At the same time, GPS signals are blocked by the depth. Now, Australian drone operator Emesent is developing specialised software that allows drones to map mines and tunnels.
Emesent was founded by former researchers at CSIRO, the Australian federal government agency responsible for scientific research. The researchers developed the Hovermap technology, which uses LiDAR-based 3D simultaneous localisation and mapping. LiDAR ((light detection and ranging) is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. The LiDAR data is used to detect objects around the drone in all directions. This allows navigation without GPS. It also enables the creation of 3D point clouds with very high resolution. The high resolution aids in the identification of geological features and other complex information from the data set.
Emesent has put its technology to the test at several Australian mines. At a trial in Northern Star Resources’ Jundee mine in September 2017, a drone carrying a Hovermap payload completed the world’s first autonomous, beyond the line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine. The drone flew autonomously 600 metres (2,000 feet) beneath the surface.