Drones Play An Increasing Role In African Mine Management

By Dana Sanchez Published: March 23, 2016, 10:48 am
Photo: techni-drone.comPhoto: techni-drone.com

Only a handful of mines across Africa use next-generation technology such as drones, but that’s expected to increase sharply over the next two years, according to a survey of 100 mine managers and decision-makers at African mines, MiningWeekly reported.

Almost a third of companies that haven’t yet invested — 29 percent — say they plan to inject capital into drone, wearable and real-time video training technology, according to a survey by online data analysis and advisory firm Timetric Mining Intelligence Center.

Some of Africa’s first commercial drone startups are catering to African mines, among other diverse businesses.

Rocketmine, South Africa

South Africa’s Rocketmine and Ghana’s Aeroshutter are helping provide services such as 3D volumetric image processing for multinational mining companies, Telecrunch reported.

Johannesburg-based Rocketmine provides aerial data solutions in mining, agriculture, water and forestry, and civil engineering. Clients include Anglo American and BHP Billiton.  The company landed South Africa’s first Commercial Operating License in 2015 under the country’s new Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems regulations. Rocketmine expects revenue to exceed $1 million in 2016, according to CEO Chris Clark, Telecrunch reported.

Clark said he saw the potential for aerial data services while working for digital media company Public Display Technologies. He noticed one of his mining clients struggling to collect data with a broken drone.

“I listened to the problems and started thinking about how to plug those holes with technology,” Clark told TechCrunch. “We quickly realized the potential for safe, affordable, and prompt aerial data collection…and turned it into a scalable business.”

Mine sites use technology for environmental management, tire monitoring and shift optimization, among other things. The mining survey identified eight mine-site technologies that are expected to exceed 80 percent within two years, according to MiningWeekly:

While 85 percent of mines surveyed expect to increase investment in environmental and emissions management – exceeding 90 percent in two years –investment into scheduling and shift optimization software, a focus for 79 percent of those surveyed, is expected to surge to 92 percent as mines chased higher levels of productivity.

Rocketmine has seven pilots, a fleet of 15 eBee drones, and conducts business in South Africa, Nigeria, and Mozambique. “We’ll fly in Africa wherever the requests come from,” Clark told Telecrunch.

One of Rocketmine’s services is quantifying mine stockpile volumes using aerial volumetric 3D mapping. “Previously employees would walk over these 40-meter piles with GPS devices, which was dangerous and less accurate. Now what used to take half a day takes half an hour and we get volume calculations down to 0.025 percent accuracy,” Clark said.

Aeroshutter, Ghana

Founded by 30-year-old Kwamena Hazel, Ghanaian startup Aeroshutter provides commercial property surveillance, among other things. The company has six staff members operating a fleet of DGI drones with SD card cameras running Pix4D and Dronedeploy mapping software. It has done work in Ghana for Best Western, TEDx, Vodaphone, and Numont Mining, Techcrunch reported.


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