Hovermap drone technology uses lidar and 3D SLAM to go where people and GPS can’t

Drone technology has proved endlessly useful above the Earth’s surface. Now it’s going underground. 

Hovermap’s drone technology uses 3D simultaneous localisation and mapping (3D SLAM) to collect in places where GPS can’t go. In 2017, Hovermap made a successful flight in a mine 600 metres underground in Western Australia, and the drone technology is already in use in Australia, the US, Canada, China, and Japan.

“This is a prime example of how investment in Australian research can create new opportunities and value for our economy, including our mining sector,” industry, science, and technology minister Karen Andrews said. “This could help improve the productivity of mines and the safety of workers. The data collected provides a better understanding of underground mine conditions, without placing miners in hazardous situations.”

Emesent will use the money raised — mostly from CSIRO’s Innovation Fund and ACAC Innovation’s Andy Greig — to commercialise and scale Hovermap’s drone technology and increase its staff from seven to 25 people.

“Hovermap enables the mining industry to safely inspect inaccessible areas of underground mines while improving the type and quality of data collected to unlock new insights,” Emesent co-founder and CEO Dr. Stefan Hrabar said. “This includes comparing the stope design to the actual post-blast shape to detect over-break and under-break, identification of geotechnical structures and accurate post-blast volume reconciliations. The data we gather improves a mine’s productivity and provides a better understanding of conditions underground, all without sending surveyors and miners into potentially hazardous areas.”

Emesent and Data61 — CSIRO’s technology arm — will team up in the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge, which will explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search, and exploit complex underground environments. The winner will receive $2 million US (approximately $2.8 million Australian) after the final event in 2021.