Mining's military technology

COULD technology intended for the battlefield during times of war protect the Australian mining industry? Supply Side, by Australia’s Mining Monthly editor Thomas Smith.
Mining's military technology Mining's military technology Mining's military technology Mining's military technology Mining's military technology

Aerosonde's "Sting" UAV

Thomas Smith

Every day, our lives are touched in some way, large or small, by technology that was originally developed for other industries.

NASA – America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration – has given us everything from freeze-dried foods to the latest solar panel technology.

The world of motorsport is also the birthplace of just about every piece of gadgetry we see in our cars today.

Now, technology that was once used for military purposes is having a positive effect at minesites across Australia.

Unmanned aerial vehicles were developed to survey the battlefield and enemy territory without putting a pilot in harm’s way.

But the technology is becoming increasingly more influential in the field of surveying and mapping.

The benefits of this are obvious. Removing the human factor from any operation eliminates risk.

Accuracy is also improved, as aerial surveys offer an extra dimension to data gathered at ground level. And it’s quicker too.

Surveyor Brian Anderson and his team are constantly monitoring Xstrata Coal’s Collinsville mine, in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, for any movement and subsidence.

Their work is critical to protecting the miners working at the site.

“I think unmanned aerial systems are the future for mine surveying,” Anderson said.

“Within the next two to five years, I think they will take over from laser scanning.

“At the moment, we are saving a lot of time with the survey itself, as the UAV only takes two days to record the active work areas.

“The survey team is continuously monitoring any movements to ensure everyone’s safety, as we’re working through old underground mines.

“Once the technology has been fine-tuned, it has the potential for enormous time and manpower savings, as well as huge safety benefits.”

Safety is the point where mine managers and executives sit up and sharpen their focus.

The mining industry has seen several fatalities in the last six months.

Questions, inevitably, are being asked.

Investigations into the cause and how to prevent the same thing from happening again are ongoing.

Any technology that offers as little as just 1% safety improvement will be taken seriously.

Committing dollars to a purchase that has the potential to save lives and vastly reduce exposure to safety risks is an easier argument to make.

Companies look good if they’re investing in safety equipment and technology and protecting their workforce.

UAVs have the added bonus of doing the job quicker. On a financial level, this helps projects trim the fat and nudge closer to efficiency and optimisation targets.

It’s taken a while to perfect the technology that can withstand the demands of a harsh Australian climate and perform at a level that has surveyors suggesting we’re now seeing the next generation of scanning.

Regardless of origin – military or other – the mining industry is reaping the benefits.