3D Design
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, as they are commonly referred to have re-imagined the heights that human beings can reach. These high-flying devices have captured death-defying pictures and videos, have helped safeguard military personnel and are being touted as the next wave in home delivery.

These winged-robotic devices are also helping to modernize one of the world’s oldest and most challenging sectors: the mining industry. In fact, drones are playing a critical role in the global disruption of the mining industry. “New drone technology is on its way to replace labour-intensive methods of surveying, inspection and mapping,” writes Syed Ahmed of 3D Visualization Magazine.

Paired with the latest 3D mapping tools and the data storage and delivery capabilities of the Internet of Things, drone technologies are a cost-friendly alternative to time-consuming manual mapping, especially in rough terrain. “This is emerging as a new trend in the mining industry to capture 3D spatial data in hard-to-access underground areas in mines with an aim to remove much of the risk and increase safety on site,” continues Ahmed.

When it comes to the mining sector, 3D mapping is much more than just surveying land visible to the naked eye. Three dimensional mapping looks deep inside the ground to reveal valuable resources, ground weakness, erosion damage and much more.

These detailed maps are produced using lasers and depth-sensitive gauging to generate precise models of mines, quarries and excavation sites. According to Mining.com, 3D mapping has been used since 2012 in the world’s deepest gold mine located in South Africa. The sequential-grid mining production extracts more than 500,000 ounces of gold a year from depths reaching between 2,400 meters and 3,900 meters.

Now, coupled with drone-generated imagery, 3D mapping is able to provide a more complex and comprehensive rendering of mining areas.

Arizona Mining chairman and noted mining veteran, Richard Warke, points out that these new technologies are also enhanced by the big data sharing capabilities of the Internet of Things. “The IoT allows us to view the data and map it in real time, which is extremely beneficial in mining as the mine and surrounding area change over time,” said Warke.

The real-time access that the IoT provides will be valuable beyond the planning phase as well. “Real-time mapping is being used to monitor mining safety and structural stability of mining assets on site,” Richard Warke added.

Applications are also being developed to modify current drone technology, allowing these robotic devices capable of deep subterranean drilling. This is especially pertinent today as mineral resources are diminishing, requiring deeper exploration and extraction. Many operational mines around the world reportedly have gone deeper than 2.5km. “Such depths pose huge challenges in operations, safety and logistics. This has encouraged design and development of autonomous vehicles,” points out the 3D Visualization Magazine.

Robotic vehicles will offer increased safety when it comes to mining, but they will also allow for faster, cheaper exploration. While the initial purchase of the technology may be pricey, the long term benefits may be well worth the cost. Not to mention the addition of robotic arms and future technology allowing for the production of smaller drones able to explore the smallest spaces.

Mining innovation promises to have long-term environmental impacts. Increased accuracy when it comes to mining and drilling will allow the industry to dig fewer holes and may eventually even eliminate the need for disruptive testing and explosives.