Aussie startup receives 3.5m in funding for mine mapping drone

The Emesent team. Source: CSIRO

Emesent, a drone autonomy spin-out from CSIRO, the technology arm of Australia’s national science agency, has raised $3.5 million in venture capital to commercialise its autonomous mine drone technology.

Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO Innovation Fund, led the funding round along with Andy Greig from ACAC Innovation for Emesent’s first product, Hovermap.

The Hovermap technology is installed on drones to automate data collection in underground areas too dangerous or difficult for people to survey, such as in mines.

Developed by former researchers from CSIRO’s Data61, Hovermap draws on a decade of research by CSIRO’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems group into drone autonomy and 3D LiDAR-based simultaneous localisation and mapping (3D SLAM) techniques.

Hovermap can be deployed in GPS-denied environments without a human controller to create 3D maps, and record gas readings, videos and images.

The data can be used to compare the stope design to the actual post-blast shape to detect over-break and under-break, identify geotechnical structures and generate accurate post-blast volume reconciliations.

Dr Stefan Hrabar, co-founder and CEO of Emesent, said Hovermap would enable the mining industry to safely inspect inaccessible areas of underground mines, while improving the type and quality of data collected to unlock new insights.

“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,” Hrabar said.

“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 also received support from CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program, both supported by the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Federal industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews said that the technology developed by Emesent was potentially “game-changing” for the mining industry.

“This is a prime example of how investment in Australian research can create new opportunities and value for our economy, including our mining sector,” 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 is partnered with CSIRO’s Data61 to compete in the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new Subterranean Challenge, which aims to develop innovative technologies to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments.

Last year, the Hovermap technology enabled the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

Emesent’s Hovermap system is already being used commercially for a variety of applications by early adopters in Australia, the US, Canada, China and Japan.

A new program targeting the underground mining sector has now been rolled out, providing early access to Emesent’s mining-specific autonomy functions to selected participants.

“The investment will give us the opportunity to build out our team from seven to 25, and make Emesent a global leader in drone autonomy and automated underground data collection and analysis,” Hrabar said.