Tag Archives: mine surveying

STRYDE and Explor project cuts seismic image survey times in mountainous terrains

A collaboration between STRYDE, a seismic technology provider, and Explor, a geophysical technology and data acquisition company, has indicated seismic imaging surveys in mountainous terrain could become much less onerous in the future.

As STRYDE explains, mountains present a significant challenge for any sector seeking to map the subsurface to determine the abundance of resources, from mining to water management to energy. The steepness and narrowness of mountain paths present a significant health and safety risk and can prevent large teams or vehicles from accessing different locations of the site, in some cases necessitating the use of helicopters to transport equipment.

Helicopters, however, present not only a significant expense and source of carbon emissions, but a considerable health and safety risk. Any technology used in these locations, therefore, must require minimal intervention and enable independent operation, the company said.

The seismic imaging trial STRYDE and Explor embarked on took place on mountainous terrain in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The mountain imaged by Explor was particularly inaccessible, reaching over 2,000 m in height, with the steepest slope gradients exceeding 40°.

“The steep slopes and the presence of large, unstable boulder fields in this site meant that the only way to deploy nodes was on foot,” STRYDE said. “On-foot transport requires a limited weight carried per person to avoid injury. This limited weight means that a large team is required to carry the number of conventional nodes needed to accurately map out the subsurface.”

As such, Explor trialled STRYDE’s Nimble system™ as a receiver in conjunction with Explor’s PinPoint® seismic source to gather a 2D seismic line and confirm the suitability of STRYDE in mountainous terrain.

Due to the STRYDE node’s size and 150 g weight, Explor’s team of three were able to deploy more than one node every minute. The enablement of this small team size also proved crucial with the project taking place between June and September 2020, during COVID 19 restrictions on on-site personnel. STRYDE provided remote support for initial setup and Explor was able to activate and distribute the nodes independently.

STRYDE’s node can continuously record seismic data for at least 28 days at temperatures well below freezing, minimising the need for interaction with the nodes once placed, the company says. Once data had been collected, it took two members of Explor’s team just three hours to retrieve several hundred STRYDE nodes throughout the mountain terrain.

Explor was able to fit all the equipment needed for deployment and recording including both the STRYDE Nimble system and the PinPoint source system into a single pickup truck and 20 ft (6.1 m) trailer. This contrasts with a previous similar Explor seismic study, which had required a 50 ft (15 m) tractor trailer and a truck, plus 18 people, just to transport the system into the seismic camp.

Allan Chatenay, President of Explor, said: “To acquire a 2D line in extremely rugged terrain with just three people is game-changing and a testament to STRYDE’s pioneering system. This technology will change the efficiency of seismic operations.

“The remote support we had from STRYDE – despite all the challenges associated with the pandemic – was excellent. The whole trial was conducted successfully in half the time and with less than 20% of the people power that would typically be needed.”

Mike Popham, CEO of STRYDE, said: “We share a common vision for the future of land seismic, whereby technologies such as PinPoint and STRYDE allow zero environmental impact seismic acquisition.

“We have demonstrated that any site, regardless of terrain, can be mapped with seismic technology with even a skeleton crew. The massive reductions in cost and environmental impact you can gain by eliminating the need for additional vehicles or line clearing can open up the power of seismic imaging of the subsurface to a whole range of industries and applications – from geothermal energy to mining to carbon capture and underground storage.”

Explor has committed to another project using 20,000 STRYDE nodes following the results of this trial, STRYDE said.

Emesent’s Hovermap aids ore pass decision making at Petra’s Finsch diamond mine

Highly accurate point cloud data sets from a Hovermap scan have allowed Petra Diamonds’ Finsch mine engineers to “see” the condition of ore passes for the first time and avoid an estimated five months and R5 million ($350,000) in remediation, Emesent says.

Finsch, in South Africa’s Northern Cape, uses ore passes and underground silos to transfer ore between levels or to redirect ore for load and haul to the surface. Blockages, hang-ups, overbreak or scaling can impact the structural integrity and result in extended downtime and significant remediation costs. Accurate imagery enables mine engineers to gauge the integrity of ore passes and plan timely and cost-effective remediation programs, according to Emesent.

Historically, however, scanning and mapping inaccessible shafts and voids has been a challenge for Petra.

The company’s management sought a means of obtaining accurate visualisations of underground voids, quickly and cost effectively, without endangering the safety of Petra personnel or contractors, Emesent says.

Petra management trialled the Hovermap multiple data capture methods with Emesent partner, Dwyka Mining Services, contracted to carry out multiple scans of an indoor stockpile, ore passes and vertical shafts, and a series of access tunnels and ramps.

Hovermap is a drone autonomy and LiDAR mapping payload. It uses the LiDAR data and advanced algorithms on-board, in real time, to provide reliable and accurate localisation and navigation without the need for GPS.

Dwyka spent a day on-site conducting a series of scans using Hovermap mounted to vehicles, a DJI drone, or lowered in a protective cage. Dwyka delivered point cloud data sets for Petra’s survey team to geo-reference and analyse, within 24 hours. It also provided visualisations of the ore passes, enabling the mine engineers to ‘see’ the condition of orepasses for the first time, Emesent said.

Alex Holder, Group Planning and Projects Lead at Petra Diamonds, explained: “We lowered Hovermap down ore passes, flew the drone into draw points and even scanned our shaft and ramps by fixing the scanner to one of our vehicles. The visualisation delivered exceeded all our expectations. The data captured in one ore pass saved us significant time and effort by confirming it was irreparable. That saved us millions.”

Using Hovermap led to an immediate decision to abandon plans to expend resources remediating a compromised ore shaft. This decision saved Petra an estimated five months and R5 million.

Heinrich Westermann, Mining Engineer at Petra Diamonds, said: “The ability to power and switch the Hovermap payload between the various applications meant that we were able to scan a considerable amount of the mine in one shift. Generally, this was either impossible and, if it were possible, it would take weeks to collect those datasets and months to see the final visuals.”

The data collected by Hovermap has become the basis of a data library for the site. It is augmented regularly and used to inform operational decision making by Petra’s mine planning and survey teams, according to Emesent.

Petra intends to deploy Hovermap scanning technology to map inaccessible locations at its other sites across Africa, Emesent says.

Maptek scanners, software boosts efficiency and safety at Kirkland Lake’s Fosterville mine

Maptek’s underground laser scanners and software have been helping geology and geotechnical engineering teams save time and monitor safety at Kirkland Lake Gold’s Fosterville mine in Victoria, Australia.

At the underground mine, the geology team use two SR3 laser scanners and the PointStudio software for structural mapping and identifying structures.

“They primarily focus on scanning the ore drive development headings and then analyse the data and do the mapping in PointStudio,” Fosterville Project Rock Mechanics Engineer, Corey McKenzie, says.

The Maptek SR3 is a dedicated underground laser scanner, with a scan window of 130° vertically and 360° horizontally for capturing roofs and walls in tunnels and underground drives.

With fast accurate sensing and tailored mount accessories, the SR3 can be operated remotely from any web-enabled device and combines well with modelling software PointStudio for improving overall productivity and safety underground, Maptek says.

“PointStudio has a lot of neat tools,” McKenzie says. “Smart Query is useful for extracting joint set data, and the Distance for Objects feature can be used for fibrecrete thickness analysis.”

The geotechnical team uses ZEB scanners for convergence checks and it is, Maptek says, excited about the potential of Maptek workflows to streamline and save time in convergence monitoring.

The Workflow Editor incorporates software menu items, command line executables and scripting capabilities with Maptek Workbench tools and custom components to automate processes.

McKenzie says cloud-to-cloud comparison using laser scan data in PointStudio is all about safety.

“We want to know if the walls or backs are moving,” McKenzie said. “If we notice a spot that is starting to deform, we scan it more regularly so we’ve got that constant update of data and can track how it’s moving and the rate of deformation. We can then make decisions about rehabilitation. And we also need to know when our ground support capacity is going to be consumed.”

When PointStudio was introduced at the site this year, McKenzie found it relatively easy to learn, appreciating the visual layout of the options along the top ribbon, Maptek said.

The Fosterville geotechnical team is looking to expand its usage of PointStudio and expects the new scanline mapping tool in the latest version to help rockmass classification, according to the company.

“We’re just starting to explore the geotech/rock mechanics aspects,” McKenzie said. “Maptek is always willing to answer questions.”

The site also recently completed a trial of Maptek monitoring solution, Sentry.

“Now that we’ve tested Sentry and know its capabilities, we’ll be confident down the track if there’s an area that we want to monitor more closely,” McKenzie concluded.

Freespace Operations’ Callisto to soar higher in mining drone space

Victoria, Australia-based Freespace Operations has recently customised its drone technology to address some of the challenges associated with modern mining, resulting in the production of its Callisto Modular Industrial Multirotor.

The Callisto is an autonomous modular and multipurpose industrial drone with benefits for the resources sector including increased productivity and worker safety.

Freespace Operations Managing Director, Ken King, said: “The Callisto was designed from the ground up to be an industrial system prioritising function over form,” he said. “It’s overall levels of performance and capability exceed all other comparable systems currently available.”

King says the Callisto completes aerial surveying using advanced LiDAR sensor technologies previously only available with manned aviation. It can also deliver cargo across sites and lift product out of mines autonomously.

“The result is increased productivity because tasks can be completed quicker, with precision repeatability and without the need to place people in risky environments,” he said.

According to King, the drone system offers most benefit at sites that are remote and face logistical challenges like poor weather, undulating topography, dense vegetation and poor access.

“The Callisto has been designed for typical mine sites, so safety, durability and serviceability are built into the system,” he said. “At IMARC Online we’ll be demonstrating the Callisto to companies that undertake LiDAR aerial surveying and require long-range cargo delivery.”

IMARC Online is on now until November 27, 2020.

Exyn Technologies gains Australia mining market exposure with C.R. Kennedy pact

Exyn Technologies, a pioneer in autonomous aerial robot systems for complex, GPS-denied industrial environments, has announced Australia company C.R. Kennedy as its first international distributor.

C.R Kennedy is one of the largest providers of survey equipment for mining and government needs in Australia, Exyn says.

The ExynAero (formerly the Exyn A3R), an autonomous and self-piloting aerial drone, was the product that helped open the door to the relationship, according to Exyn.

Clinton Harn, Head of Marketing at C.R. Kennedy, said: “When discussing with our surveying customers, the real need was a product that would map and navigate their underground caverns, much like what they saw in the blockbuster movie ‘Prometheus’.

“The ability to make science fiction a reality is very appealing, inspiring, and, most importantly, possible – that much was clear after Exyn first demoed their product to us.”

Nader Elm, CEO of Exyn Technologies, said: “We’re excited to be expanding into the Australian market with this relationship with C.R. Kennedy to help a whole new set of customers. The opportunity to continue to advance the technology in the mining sector with this new market is important for the continued evolution of mining and our business.”

In one of its earliest use cases, Exyn flew to Bulgaria to assist Dundee Precious Metals (DPM) in mapping its underground gold mine.

Current CMS would have required hours of setup to map a single stope, according to Exyn. “Equipped with Exyn’s then-A3R, however, DPM surveyors were able to map six stopes over the course of circa-three days, logging 123 flights in total, capturing accurate, high-fidelity data sets ready to be loaded into DPM’s mining software,” the company said.

Nord Gold begins IT system transition to Deswik platform

Nord Gold says it has started re-platforming its mine planning IT systems to Deswik, the Australia-based mining-focused global technology company.

The move follows a successful three-month test period and will see the company integrating its operating environment from the numerous software applications currently in use, Nordgold said.

“Deswik provides specialist solutions spanning software, consulting, and training,” the gold miner said. “To date, Nordgold has implemented strategic mine planning, pit design, load and haul simulation, survey modules, and is also considering using Deswik’s drill hole optimiser module.”

Nordgold expects to roll out the new software platform in a three-year staged approach. Throughout the test period, the Deswik software has been adopted by the company’s head office, the Gross and Tabornoe open-pit mines in eastern Siberia, the Suzdal underground mine in Kazakhstan, and the Lefa mine in Guinea. Migration to the Deswik platform is expected to be completed at the Bissa and Bouly mines in Burkina Faso in 2021, with all remaining operations following shortly thereafter.

Louw Smith, Nordgold’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “At Nordgold we pride ourselves on knowledge sharing and collaboration across the business, despite the differences between our individual operations. The Deswik platform is a perfect fit as it caters for both underground and open-pit mines, which was crucial for our diversified business.

“We have been particularly encouraged by the software’s ability to circumvent our legacy systems’ constraints, while still supporting older data formats for backwards compatibility.

“As the implementation phase has proven, Deswik’s software allows for optimisation of resources to generate guidance reserve shapes, pit design, scheduling of designs, and optimising schedules. Moreover, schedules can be used to generate equipment simulation to investigate the effectiveness of mining fleet and assist in optimising both operating and capital expense allocation.”

Emesent builds mining connections as Hovermap autonomy takes off

Having recently helped DJI’s M300 drone fly autonomously underground (through its Hovermap Autonomy Level 2 (AL2) solution) and signed an agreement with Deswik to provide surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, Emesent has been on a roll of late. IM put some questions to CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar, to find out more.

IM: First off, if no communications infrastructure is in place at an underground mine, how do Emesent’s drones stream a 3D map of the environment back to the operator’s tablet?

SH: Hovermap is smartly designed to operate beyond the communication range of the operator. The operator does not always need to see a live map since Hovermap is navigating by itself. The user can place a waypoint beyond the current limits of the map, and beyond line of sight and communication range. Hovermap self-navigates towards the waypoint, avoiding obstacles and building the map as it goes. Once it reaches the waypoint (or if the waypoint is impossible to reach), it automatically returns back to the operator. The map data is stored onboard Hovermap and when it returns back to within Wi-Fi range the new map data is uploaded to the tablet. The operator can then see the new areas that were mapped and place a new waypoint in or beyond that map, sending the drone back out again to explore further.

IM: What results have you so far received from using AL2 for Hovermap at mine sites? Were the results PYBAR got from trials at Dargues and Woodlawn in line with your expectations?

SH: Last year’s trials at Dargues and Woodlawn showcased some great outcomes for the PYBAR team, including the ability for Hovermap to capture valuable data using Autonomy Level 1 (AL1). The team saw great potential in the technology, leading to the purchase of two systems for their use. Earlier this year, AL2 flights were conducted at Dargues during the final pre-release testing phase. Even the first stope at Dargues that was mapped using AL2 highlighted the benefit of the system over traditional CMS (cavity monitoring systems). A large area of overbreak was identified in the Hovermap scan. The same stope had been mapped with a CMS, but this area was not visible from the CMS scan location so the overbreak was not identified.

A number of mines have been using AL2 to map their stopes and other areas beyond line-of-sight. With AL2, they can send Hovermap into places that previously would have been inaccessible, enabling them to obtain critical data in real time without risking the machine or personnel.

The AL2-based stope scans have been more detailed and complete (lack of shadowing) than ever before. A beyond line-of-sight flight down an ore pass was also conducted recently, with Hovermap guiding the drone down 120 m and returning safely to produce a very detailed scan.

The high level of autonomy provided by AL2 also allows remote operation of the drone. We recently completed a trans-continental demo, with a customer in South Africa operating a drone in Australia using our AL2 technology and standard remote collaboration tools. The remote operator in South Africa was able to use their laptop to experiment with the technology from the other side of the world, sending Hovermap exploring down a tunnel.

This is a taste of what’s to come, with drones underground being operated from the surface or from remote operation centres thousands of kilometers away. This will remove the need for skilled personnel on site, and reduce the time spent underground.

IM: What had been holding you back from achieving AL2 with drones/payloads? Is it the on-board computing power needed to that has been the issue?

SH: Flying underground where there is no GPS, the space is tight and there are hazards such as mesh, wires, dripping water and dust is very challenging. We overcame many of these with AL1, which makes it safe and easy for a pilot to operate the drone within line-of-sight (Hovermap provides collision avoidance, position hold and velocity control). AL1 has been deployed for 18 months with many customers around the world, clocking up thousands of hours of use. This helped to improve the robustness and reliability of the core flight capabilities.

Emesent CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar

AL2 builds on this mission-proved base capability to provide additional features. AL2 allows the system to fly beyond line-of-sight and beyond commination range. This means it’s on its own with no help from the operator and needs to deal with any situation it comes across. There are many edge cases that need to be considered, addressed and thoroughly tested. A significant amount of effort was put into these areas to ensure Hovermap with AL2 is extremely robust in these challenging environments. For example, the drone downwash can kick up dust, blinding the LiDAR sensor. We’ve implemented a way to deal with this, to bring the drone home safely. Other considerations are returning in a safe and efficient way when the battery is running low, or what to do if waypoints cannot be reached.

IM: How do you anticipate your partnership with Deswik impacting the mine planning and survey process? Do you see this reducing the amount of time needed to carry out this work, as well as potentially cutting the costs associated with it? Have you already carried out work at mine sites that has proven these benefits?

SH: Our commitment is to help mining companies increase safety and production while reducing costs and downtime. We do this by providing surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, allowing them to derive new insights. Our partnership with Deswik means we’re able to provide a more comprehensive end-to-end solution to the industry.

We see this as a very natural partnership that will improve the overall customer experience. Hovermap excels at capturing rich 3D data in all parts of the mine (whether drone based, hand-held, lowered down a shaft on a cable or vehicle mounted). Once the data is captured and converted to 3D, customers need to visualise and interrogate the data to derive insights. This is where Deswik and other mining software vendors come into play. They have powerful software tools for planning, survey, drill and blast, geotechnical mapping and a host of other applications. We’re partnering with these vendors to ensure seamless integration between Hovermap data and their tools. We’re working with them to build automated workflows to import, geo-reference, clean and trim the data, and convert it into formats that are suitable for various tasks.

Surveyors at Evolution Mining’s Mungari operation have been using this new process in Deswik. Previously they needed a third software tool to perform part of the workflow manually before importing to Dewik.CAD. The intermediate steps have been eliminated and others have been automated, reducing the time from more than 30 minutes per scan to five minutes per scan.

IM: Since really starting to catch on in the mining sector in the last five years, drones have gone from carrying out simple open-pit surveys and surveillance to drill and blasting reconciliation platforms to reconnaissance solutions carrying out some of the riskiest tasks in underground mining. In the next decade, how do you see them further evolving? What new tasks could drones carry out to improve safety, cut costs or increase productivity?

SH: Emesent’s vision is to drive forward the development of ‘Sentient Digital Twins’ of industrial sites to future-proof the world’s major industries, from mining to energy and construction. These industries will be able to move to more automated decision-making using high-quality, autonomously collected data across their sites and tapping into thousands of data points to make split-second decisions about potential dangers, opportunities and efficiencies using a centralised decision-making platform.

We see our Hovermap technology being a key enabler for this future. Drones and other autonomous systems will become an integral part of the mine of the future. Drones will be permanently stationed underground and operated remotely, ready for routine data collection flights or to be deployed as needed after an incident.

Hovermap is already addressing some of the biggest challenges in mining — including safety and operational downtime. It improves critical safety to mines, keeping workers away from hazardous environments while providing better data to inform safety related decisions such as the level of ground support needed. This then feeds into better efficiency by helping mines to more accurately calculate risks and opportunities, aid decision making and predict situations.

Hovermap can significantly reduce downtime after an incident. For example, it was used to assess the level of damage in LKAB’s Kiruna mine after a seismic event. More than 30 scans were captured covering 1.2 km of underground drives that were not safe to access due to fall of ground. In another case, one of our customers saved around A$20 million ($14.6 million) after an incident, as they could use Hovermap to quickly capture the data necessary to make a critical decision.

IM: In terms of R&D, what future payload developments are you investing in currently that may have applications in mining?

SH: We’ll keep adapting our Hovermap design to suit new LiDAR improvements as they are released. More importantly, we’ll improve the autonomy capabilities so that even more challenging areas can be mapped with ease. We’re also adding additional sensors such as cameras, as these provide additional insights not visible in the LiDAR data. Our colourisation solution is an add-on module for Hovermap, which uses GoPro video to add colour to the LiDAR scans. This allows the identification of geological and other features.

Emesent’s Hovermap to provide Deswik with complete underground mine picture

Emesent has partnered with leading software developer Deswik to, it says, enable mining companies to incorporate high-quality data captured in inaccessible locations into their mine plans and surveys.

Emesent is a leader in drone autonomy, LiDAR mapping, and data analytics. Founded in 2018 through a spin out of CSIRO, Emesent has since built a reputation for delivering high-quality data capture in the mining, infrastructure, survey and mapping industries, it said.

The company’s Hovermap is a drone autonomy and LiDAR mapping payload. It uses the LiDAR data and advanced algorithms on-board, in real time, to provide reliable and accurate localisation and navigation without the need for GPS.

“This feature makes it ideally suited to map hazardous or underground environments where traditional data capture methods are difficult and dangerous,” the company said.

Deswik, meanwhile, is a global consulting and technology company delivering efficiency-focused solutions to all sectors within the mining industry. Its mine planning and management platforms are used in over 500 mine operations around the world.

The two organisations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to integrate their solutions to provide a more comprehensive solution to the resources sector, Emesent said.

In the first instance, a co-designed, semi-automated workflow has been created to import Hovermap data into Deswik’s design and solids modelling platform, Deswik.CAD. This workflow enables users to translate the Hovermap data within minutes, creating usable surfaces, solids and point clouds for as-built surveys, volume reporting and design updates, Emesent said.

“The data from Emesent’s Hovermap scanner can be imported into Deswik and visualised using any of the attributes that have been captured in the scan,” Stephen Rowles, Deswik Survey Product Manager, said. “The scan can be filtered, modified, and clipped to suit the user’s requirements before being processed in one or more of the dedicated functions for point clouds.”

Emesent CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar, said the two companies were committed to working together to help mining companies increase the value of their models, by providing surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas.

“We’re excited about collaborating with another market-leading technology vendor in the resources sector,” Dr Hrabar said. “Integrating our respective solutions will assist customers to boost productivity and improve outputs.”

Deswik Partner Manager, Patrick Doig, said recent global events had piqued customer interest in technologies that allowed technical teams to collect high-quality data without the need to be physically present on site.

A partnership between Deswik and Emesent empowers their mutual and future customers to simplify processes, gain additional efficiencies and make value add decisions to their operations, Doig added.

SUEK-Kuzbass takes to the skies for surveying and land management surveys

SUEK says it has purchased six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with various modifications intended for aerial photography during surveying operations of its Kuzbass facilities, in the Kemerovo region of Russia.

The decision to develop the company’s fleet of UAVs was made after a test of aerial photography at SUEK’s open-pit mines in the Krasnoyarsk region and Buryatia, the company said. “After analysing the accuracy and detail of 3D terrain models obtained using UAVs, SUEK concluded that this technology could be used for surveying and land management in mining,” it said.

In August 2018, the Aerial Surveying Office was established as part of the technical directorate in Kuzbass. Today, the office is equipped with two Russia-made UAVs capable of making aerial photographs at a height up to 1 km, with a flight duration of two-and-a-half and four hours, respectively.

SUEK’s fleet also includes four compact DJI drones and a GNSS receiver that makes it possible to receive and process signals from all navigation satellite systems that exist today, it says. This latter device enables surveyors to locate UAVs during aerial photography.

Simultaneously with the procurement of equipment and staff training, the Aerial Surveying Office has made efforts to satisfy the requirements of the mandatory registration of UAVs with the Federal Air Transport Agency, to ensure compliance with legislation governing the use of Russian airspace, the process of aerial photography and the operation of UAVs, SUEK said.

The technology is helping the company solve a whole range of issues related to open-pit mining, such as evaluating the size of coal storage facilities, monitoring hazardous situations, updating topographic plans of work areas and surrounding territories, and monitoring the use of company land. The latter includes actual use of allotted land, the intended purpose of the land, reclamation, demolition control in buffer zones and property stock taking, the company said.

Anatoly Meshkov, Technical Director of SUEK-Kuzbass, said: “First of all, UAVs improve the efficiency and safety of surveying measurements and the accuracy of necessary calculations. We can now remotely control mining operations at almost any point and build digital enterprise models.

“Essentially, this is another step towards creating a ‘digital underground mine’ and a ‘digital open-pit mine’ to obtain the maximum amount of data for highly efficient management of coal production processes.”

CSIRO looks to drones, apps for survey success

Australia’s CSIRO believes the use of apps and drones could make surveying even the most isolated areas more efficient, easier, cheaper and safer.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has been working with industry and universities to explore how these two digital tools could transform mineral exploration in Australia and around the world.

One of these tools is the FAIMS, or Field Acquired Information Management Systems, mobile field app.

This automated system was originally developed at Macquarie University, in Australia, to record archaeology data, including samples, GPS coordinates, photos and notes. Using CSIRO’s paper-based data collection tools as a starting point, its developers have created a geochemistry module.

CSIRO Geoscience Analytic Team Leader, Dr Jens Klump, said: “When you use this app in the field, you know where you are, what the time it is, what you’re doing, who you are, what campaign you’re on.

“Any additional information then boils down to just a few drop-down menus, and maybe a note and taking a photo, and everything is documented. We had immediate take up because it saves so much time. Geochemists love it.”

CSIRO Team Leader for Minerals and Water, Dr Nathan Reid, has used the app in several major CSIRO projects, including a recent geochemical survey of the Nullarbor Plain, in southern Australia.

“By using the app, we shaved time by about 40 or 50%, which, when you’re using a helicopter, literally time is money with the amount of fuel you’re burning,” he says.

FAIMS improves data quality, accuracy and consistency by reducing human error during recording and transcribing, according to CSIRO. It also produces barcodes to stick onto sample bags, so researchers don’t need to write IDs and other details on them.

The app automatically uploads data onto a portable server, which increases data security and makes it easy for researchers to work in very remote locations, because they don’t need WiFi or phone networks, CSIRO said.

This means data can be processed quickly and strategic decisions can be made in close to real time, leading to more efficient operations and cost savings, CSIRO explained.

Dr Klump says: “Introducing this new technology into fieldwork really gives us the opportunity to make the whole process more dynamic and to feed back what we have learned from analysing the data much more quickly. This makes the whole exploration process much more efficient.”

FAIMS is relatively inexpensive, CSIRO says, so could benefit smaller companies by giving them more affordable options to produce better results. It could also make fieldwork safer, by reducing the time researchers spend in the field, and marking hazards and fencing-off areas.

Over the past few years, CSIRO has worked with several companies using the app, including the Geological Survey of Queensland and Geological Survey of New South Wales. While the focus so far has been on mineral exploration, Dr Reid believes FAIMS could be adapted for almost any industry that collects data outside.

“At the end of the day, this is just a data capturing mechanism. The idea is to make something that you can adapt to make a workflow,” he says.

In addition to FAIMS, CSIRO sees drones as promising exploration tools. CSIRO recently received its operator’s licence – the first large, interstate organisation in Australia to do so, it says – and has started collaborating with Monash University, in Victoria, on drone data processing.

According to Dr Klump, there’s a gap in the information that can be gathered from air- and space-borne surveys and ground-based surveys – and drones are ideal for filling it.

“Drones allow us to cover relatively large areas compared to somebody walking in the field and provide data at a much higher resolution than aircraft do, because they fly closer to the ground. It’s cheap, it’s high resolution and it’s fast,” he says.

Drones, like FAIMS, could be used to improve safety in exploration by identifying dangers like geohazards, landslides and sinkholes, CSIRO believes.

For example, Hovermap technology developed by CSIRO’s Data61 is giving operators insights beyond what the eye can see into areas that have not been mapped before. Hovermap’s advanced autonomy capabilities allow operators to unlock above and below ground data with confidence and safety, CSIRO says.

It also has the versatility to let users switch easily from drone to handheld use, backpack or vehicle-mounted scanning, enabling the collection of critical data both from the air and on the ground.

Currently, CSIRO is collaborating with industry and universities in Australia and overseas to develop and integrate FAIMS and drone technology, it says.

When it comes to FAIMS, Dr Reid says his team is looking to create a workflow generator and modules that can be tailored to individual company needs.

“We’re also looking at how to upgrade the hardware and server box, and make that into a simple, off-the-shelf product,” he says.

And when it comes to drones, he says the plan is to put more processing power on the aircraft to allow for data pre-processing and cleaning, without having to download raw data that needs to be processed later.

“A package of app, machine learning and drone could make exploration more accessible, because it would be easier and cheaper to produce high-quality data on relatively large scales compared to today,” he says.