Researchers deploy autonomous drone to improve operations for mining industry

CSIRO Head Office

Tuesday, 07 November, 2017

Drone flying autonomously underground using hovermap payload

With the ever-increasing need for automation in challenging industrial settings, the CSIRO Data61 Hovermap delivers fully autonomous inspection and mapping capabilities that are unsurpassed in accuracy and ease of use. The technology delivers never-before-seen capabilities to users in industries such as mining and telecommunications.

In the mining industry Hovermap provides mapping of drives and stopes, a particularly hazardous activity for humans, increasing safety and reducing time for mapping. In the telecommunications area Hovermap dramatically reduces the time and cost for maintenance inspections of the burgeoning number of cell towers in use today.

By using a single lidar and advanced algorithms to provide SLAM-based mapping, omnidirectional collision avoidance, GPS-denied flight and advanced autonomy, Hovermap enables drones to autonomously explore and map complex 3D environments even where GPS is unavailable. Valuable data that would otherwise be impossible to collect can therefore be collected in a safe, repeatable and efficient way.

The core technology for Hovermap has been developed in CSIRO by a team of world-leading researchers in SLAM and drone autonomy. The development has been backed by CSIRO’s Data61 business unit and the CSIRO ON accelerator.

Initial product availability is via an Early Adopter Program and the commercial launch is set for Q3 2017 through Emesent Autonomy, specialists in application-specific autonomy for industrial drones (

“We already have four participants in the early adopter program — Insitu Pacific, Smart Survey, NQ UAV and The Little Ripper Group,” explained Dr Stefan Hrabar, principal research scientist at Data61 and Hovermap project leader. “They are successfully using Hovermap for mapping and inspection of oil and gas infrastructure, telecommunication towers, construction sites, underground and open-cut mines and railway tunnels and bridges. For all of these applications, autonomy and GPS-denied flight will be essential or add significant value.

“The program is providing vital learnings for us as we prepare to commercialise Hovermap. It is helping us to validate the product-market fit and learn where Hovermap provides the greatest value. We’ll iterate and adapt to ensure we’re solving real problems in these markets.”

Insitu Pacific Managing Director Andrew Duggan said that Insitu Pacific was excited to be working with Data61 as an early adopter of Hovermap.

“As we continue to expand the scope of our commercial data services operations in Australia leveraging unmanned systems, cutting-edge sensor and autonomy packages like Hovermap open up a range of new opportunities across the oil and gas and mining industry space,” said Duggan.

3D point cloud of underground mine generated by Hovermap lidar payload.

3D point cloud of underground mine generated by Hovermap lidar payload.

Feng Liu, SmartSurvey CEO, said: “Our customers require accurate as-built 3D models of their telecom towers for audits, wind loading estimates, antenna orientation measurement and assessing storm damage.

“We’ve trialled other techniques such as terrestrial lidar and drone-based photogrammetry but none of these have met our requirements. Hovermap produces incredibly dense, accurate point clouds which allows us to measure the antenna pointing direction within the required 1 degree in elevation and azimuth.

“We’re also excited about trialling the fully autonomous tower mapping feature of Hovermap which is under development. With a click of a button a tower will be mapped in a single flight.”m

Dr David Cole, managing director of NQ UAV, said: “When I first saw the results produced by Hovermap I could immediately see its potential. Over the years we have carved a niche in performing high-risk drone operations such as operating in controlled airspace, underground, in industrial buildings and around sensitive infrastructure.

“The autonomy and collision avoidance provided by Hovermap in these environments is critical to ensuring mission success. We have already put Hovermap to work by conducting underground mapping in a mine stope, which we believe is a world first.”

“The Little Ripper Group, with its cutting-edge deployment across the challenging environments that we face daily in our core business areas of Search and Rescue, disaster and/or flood survey, and agricultural/horticultural work was a very good match with Hovermap,” said The Ripper Group CEO Eddie Bennet. “We’ve quickly embraced the technology and celebrate the opportunity to join the Early Adopter Program.”

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