The future of Mining

Drones are sweeping over the global mining industry

The future of mining will increasingly rely on the use of drones and automated systems, slashing costs while helping mining companies find and dig up more gold, silver and other metals and minerals.

Many mining companies around the world are aiming to integrate remote operations and monitoring centres into their operations. And in addition to improving safety and management of mining operations, the push for automation is consistently seen as a top priority for most mining companies. The reason for the use of drones, robots, driverless trucks, remote drilling and other areas of automation is obvious: they can dramatically slash the cost of exploration. Instead of using helicopters or a field crew to survey an area, for instance, a drone can do the same job at a fraction of the cost and also save a huge amount of time.

Automation continues to sweep over the global mining industry because it can “save lives, and also save time and save money,” Mehmet Kizil, associate professor and mining-engineering program leader at the University of Queensland in Australia said “The industry’s made a big jump in adopting this technology because the biggest cost in mining is labour.”

The miners that try to do it the ol’ fashioned way, with a pick and shovel, will be left in the dust. A few companies at the frontier of the new tech-craze in global gold and silver mining: Barrick Gold is a top gold miner, with gold producing assets in Argentina, Canada, Peru, the Dominican Republic and the United States. At the end of 2016, Barrick Gold had 86 million ounces of proven and probable gold reserves. Its core operations are located in Nevada, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Argentina. Barrick has been a pioneer in the use of new technologies, such as drones, that dramatically cut costs and improve safety.

“Drones become a standard practice”

Barrick first began using drones in 2012, an early adopter because it recognized the enormous advantages of that drones bring to bear on mining operations. Barrick uses drones at most of its mines, and at its Dominican Republic operation, it uses a drones every single day. “Everyone in the industry is realizing the value of drones. They’ll soon become a standard practice,” Iain Allen, Barrick Gold’s senior manager for mining information technology, told Inside Unmanned Systems in late 2016. “There’s just too much value not to have one.” Barrick first used drones to measure stockpiles, which was once a labour-intensive process using surveyors and GPS equipment that wasn’t all that accurate. But the gold mining company now has drones do all of that measuring, eliminating several weeks of work in one pass.

Not only would the surveyor manually scan the area, but then he would have to crunch the numbers on his own. Now a drone flies over an area, automatically uploads data to the cloud, and within hours it has a 3D model of the area it scanned – saving money, time and taking personnel out of harm’s way. Barrick was hit hard by the downturn in commodity prices over the past few years, and its production fell as a result. But it also managed to cut debt almost in half over the past half-decade through innovation and savings.

Hélicéo offers useful products in the field of mining

Heliceo is a French company that designs, manufactures and distributes innovative measurement tools for specialist surveyors and topographers. Specialising in geomatics, the company offers global photogrammetry solutions – aerial, terrestrial and aquatic – allowing 3D geo-referenced mapping. Totally automated, Heliceo offers products like the, multi-rotor and bathymetry drones, as well as terrestrial photogrammetry solutions, their GNSS RTK boards offering, autopilot, telemetry, archiving, communication, flight controller and avionics.

precision measurement RTK droneThe RTK is a real technological concentrate, capable of detecting a 2-Euro coin at a flying height of 150 metres. The box is adaptable and can equip: Plane drones, with a wingspan of 1.5 to 3.5 metres, to survey up to 15 km² (flying endurance increased by 400% in comparison to multi-rotor drones). Hélicéo’s planes are capable of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL). Multi-rotor drones, designed to cover small and medium areas of less than 1.5 km². Their static flights perform measurement of cubic volumes, intervention in limited-space areas, indoor topographic studies, etc. The box is equipped with 2 GNSS systems (for navigation and for Trimble RTK measurements) and with a 24-million pixels camera, optimized by a calibration process develop FoxBathy.

Their “Dronebox” technology is scalable, patented and designed to equip both plane and multi-rotor UAS, as well as terrestrial photogrammetric and bathymetric UVS, this solution is a genuine technological kernel, concentrating 70% of the drones value. The perceived value of investment in their technology allows professionals to gain access to a seven measurement solution and can reduce the overall cost of purchase.


This article was published in the December 2017 issue of Mining World magazine.