Application of UAVs in the Prospecting Process for Mining

An industry that requires large resources of manpower to operate has taken a new techno turn. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or drones as they are known in common parlance have taken over the role of the human prospector and are proving their worth by giving faster, more accurate and cheaper data collection, accumulation and analysis methods in the field of prospecting.

Drones are unmanned flying machines that are operated by either remote control or they operate on a pre-configured flight path which has already been set for them These flying machines function as photographers wherein cameras are fitted either in their underbelly to capture images of the mining site. Potential mining sites are surveyed using these flying photographers prior to sending the miners to collect samples. A touch and feel dominated industry has welcomed remote data collection and processing with same or better results.

There are many types of drones that can be used in the mining industry and they can be chosen based on what they are going to be used for: For example, A first look at a potential site can be carried out by a fixed wing drone equipped with a camera, , a mining safety protocol enabler and an in-depth research oriented data provision are best served by rotary drones, which can access the most inaccessible places because of their ability to hover and move up and down vertically. The data and information collected by these drones has proven to be the bedrock of research and analysis that is used to assess a site’s potential for payload in terms of presence of the mineral resource for which it has been prospected. This information and analysis also forms the basis on which a go or a no-go decision is made and is also used to attract potential investors to invest in the site development for a site which has been classified as a “go” site.

Another interesting development is the integration of UAV’s with other traditional survey equipment like total stations, GNSS systems and terrestrial laser scanners. With commercial software applications developing the ability to combine data from these different sources in an intelligent and logical fashion, the utility of the drone in prospecting has gone up.

With the rapid advancement of technology in this domain we might, in the not so distant future see mines operated by remote by using a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI – aka robots), drones etc with no human presence required.

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