Mining Global catches up with Ariel Avitan Chief Commercial Officer at Percepto to discuss how the company’s drone technology is transforming the mining landscape…
So, Ariel, how is mining benefitting from automated drone use?
Mining was one of the first real relevant applications for drones, especially when you look at pile inspection. Having the ability to look at your facility from above gives you a lot of access to data that I believe is not something that you can get on a needs basis. A lot of companies are service-based, meaning someone will use the drone in starting to understand the scale of the mining facility, and then using third party analysis tools to provide data like pile inspection and 3D modelling and so on.
Mining as an industry needs drone use for increased data. The question becomes a case of where it finds the gap because of the variety of mine types that creates different use cases. But not everything can be drone as a service. It requires different kinds of systems.
What kind of systems are they?
For example, when you use drones for mining, sometimes you want to send a drone into a specific pit hole for 3D mapping or to send a drone for sensors on gas control. There are different drones required for different purposes. The second thing is how you connect the drone as another sensor or another flying data collection system to the rest of the mining data collection. The industry is moving toward fully autonomous mining facilities or mining facilities that collect constant data and so you have to be agile to that.
Another example is safety. At Percepto, we provide drones that are hands free from the pilot and connected to the systems that are already in the mine field to enable the drone to react and be a responsive tool. Gas sensors, smoke sensors for a fire, even security sensors or cameras, you’d send the drone to get an immediate visual confirmation of what's going on there, so the human factor can react much better to these events.
But when it's not in security and safety, it constantly collects data from the different points of interest within the mining field. That enables you, when you have a system there readily available 24/7, it enables you to have constant ore inspection, heavy utility or heavy machinery inspection, and so on. You will profit because the system is already there.
How has the emergence of drones changed the technology conversation in mining?
The conversation is shifting. The larger companies of the world are very similar in their safety approach – safety is number one. Everybody has their own challenges, but a lot of these challenges can be visually inspected. I'll give you an example. We have a mining company that is looking for us to create a visual application that will assist if someone doesn't have a helmet. We can in real time detect and let the client or the operator know that there's someone without a helmet, or if you have X amount of people in a specific location. We can use different kinds of algorithms to identify the number of people that have gone missing, for example.
There are specific applications that we can develop and deploy that increases the safety of facilities and that's a core capability.
Is the mining industry slower to adopt technology than other industries?
With drones, industries began to look for took a tool that is better than a camera. I'll give you an example. One of the things that made us move from an application-based company to a platform is the fact that we talked to people from Siemens and they told us, ‘look, today drones are used basically to replace. It's a tool for people to replace ropes’ because they use drones for wind turbine inspection. They basically replace the rope with a drone. Apply that to mining. They replaced walking around the stockpile with using a drone as a tool to do the assessment, but it can be much more than that. It can be an integral part of the whole operation of the system when it's ongoing. That's the difference here, I think, in the mindset and I think that difference starts to trickle down in specific companies.
There’s an understanding now that we're not only looking at drones as just another component, another wrench in your tool box, but as full systems that can provide value to the security team, to the safety team, to the inspection team, to the operations team, because it can do different kinds of ongoing missions.
How does Percepto turn data into real value?
There are a lot of companies that know how to take different kinds of videos and provide the analytics for pile estimation or change detection. I think that the main gap in the world, in our specific world, is the data collection and the ability for the drone to fly very accurately and collect the right data so that the machine learning applications can process and provide the value.
We focus on real-time machine vision to get that accurate data. We want to be collecting the data in big facilities on an ongoing basis so that our offering or indeed a third-party solution can analyse the data and provide the value from the data.
Does automation and drone use remove the need for the physical human element?
Ultimately, drones cannot fix anything. They're just a good system for alerting on different kinds of risk and situations that need to be alerted of. They're much faster. They're much more accurate, and they provide data in real time for roles in decision making. If there's a gas leak, somebody needs to get there and adjust the gas leak, so it doesn't replace people. It just provides a better way of addressing different issues within the site that increases the productivity of the site and the facility.
What will the future of drone use in mining look like?
I think that mining companies are starting where it's obvious that there's value for drone use. They're waiting for specific technology and applications that will help them do more.
But as we develop new software applications that can build on top off the platform and provide that real visual data and analysis, it will increase the efficiency of these companies which, we all know, is a main goal for them because of the reduction in income.
Slowly, but surely, we'll see more and more use of these systems offer more routine applications that we have today.