Deep below the surface: Ozzie startup uses drones to map mines and tunnels

We all know drones have made great strides in mapping environments from up in the sky – but what about below ground?

Emesant is an Australian startup founded by former Federal government workers who worked in robotics and autonomous systems. Their company specializes in software for the autonomous mapping of mines and tunnels.

Mining is a massive industry in Australia – adding 125 billion dollars of value to the country last year. Mining companies need accurate data on which areas are safe to drill and Emesant can use a combination of drones, sensors and software to provide that information. The company have just secured $2.5 million in funding to continue developing their project which has already proved itself in extensive testing (see video below for a demonstration).

How does it work?

As we mentioned in our story yesterday, there are some environments (particularly underground), in which drones will receive no GPS signal and have to rely on other systems to guide themselves. Emesant’s system is called Hovermap. It gathers information through a device that is attached to the bottom of suitable industrial drones such as the Matrice 600 (see cover image). Alongside the normal video feed the drone captures through its camera, Emesant uses LIDAR (light defencing and ranging), collision avoidance sensors and GPS (when available) to create digital maps of underground environments.

A rendering of the inside of a cave using their Hovermap software alongside LIDAR sensors

This technology provides a real advantage to surveyors or site inspectors, who sometimes have to put their bodies on the line to assess the progress of a tunnel being drilled or whether a particular zone will be too risky to proceed with digging.

To date, Emesant has tested Hovermap devices to a depth of 2000 feet (600 meters) below ground in Western Australia.

As with the story we brought you earlier today about search and rescue drones that map dense forest environments, the underground drones fly through the tunnels and mines gathering data that is processed on a laptop. They then generate 3D maps of their surroundings which you can get a sense of in the clip below:

The next challenge for Emesant will be to be able to provide their product at a large-scale to mining companies, both in Australia and internationally.

Check out our story from yesterday about DJI’s new online drone simulator or a story from a few hours ago about new autonomous search and rescue drones.

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