Ensuring optimal haul road safety with automated drones

 

Every day, a long line of trucks weighed down with hundreds of tons of ore, waste, equipment and other burdensome loads go barreling down haul roads, rumbling around curves and screeching down declines, often with nothing but a guardrail and good driving keeping those trucks from careening over a cliff.

Safety is the top priority of every mining company, but with the extensive nature of mining operations, staying on top of every safety consideration big and small is a task that can feel somewhat beyond Sisyphean, especially when it comes to the tangled network of haul roads responsible for keeping the lifeblood of every mine flowing. But what if a mining company could have haul road safety inspections completed 24/7 either scheduled or on-demand, have extraordinary amounts of haul road data and imagery gathered, have the most precise models possible produced, and be guaranteed nearly instant incident response?

Automated drone, you’re hired.

What automated means

The industry has been understandably abuzz about drones for a few years now, but over those years it’s become clear that to achieve true cost and time savings as well as thoroughly minimize the risk to human life so prevalent in many sectors, not just any industrial drone will do. Drones for mining and many other industries need to be more advanced

An automated drone is one that operates with either minimal human intervention, or no human intervention at all, launching, landing, flying, gathering data, processing data and even performing maintenance like battery changes and sensor changes automatically. This eliminates the considerable costs of a drone pilot and payload operator, and eliminates the time spent waiting for those professionals in the event that an unscheduled flight is necessary.

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This allows for on-demand or emergency response missions in addition to scheduled flights, and makes it cost-efficient for a drone to complete dangerous tasks such as blast site inspection or surveying that may otherwise be left to human workers who wouldn’t command as high a fee as specialized drone operators. Altogether, an automated drone is an efficient solution to many haul road safety and inspection issues.

Regular inspections

With the size and weight of the trucks and mining equipment regularly driving on haul roads, there can be no compromise when it comes to their structural integrity and overall performance. Keeping haul roads in optimal condition requires frequent, detailed and precise inspections – all of which would be time-consuming and cumbersome for human inspectors or surveyors, and would actually present a significant danger to the inspectors on the side of the road as well as the drivers passing by.

An automated drone can quickly and easy fly preplanned inspections to capture a huge amount of data, including imagery, and produce detailed reports, including digital elevation models with a high level of precision that can help engineers identify erosion or rolling resistance increase issues at their very outset. All of this can be completed without interrupting traffic. The easier inspections are, the more frequent they can be, and the faster issues can be identified and fixed, preventing bigger problems.

Real-time observation

 

 

How trucks and other equipment handle is a major indication of road condition, as well as how safely the roads in question were designed to begin with. An automated drone can easily and unobtrusively provide real-time traffic monitoring to alert engineers to existing or emerging issues.

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This monitoring can illuminate problems with traffic congestion, intersection conditions, and confusion over right-of-way as well as an over-reliance on service brakes or difficulty handling road conditions. Additionally, real-time video streaming quickly provides information on issues in need of fast fixes, like potholes or debris on the roadway, while automatic data processing can create precise surface models to assist haul road engineers with repairs.

An automated drone could also fly the route trucks have to drive at driver level, allowing engineers to see any issues with sight lines, steep grades, sharp curves or narrow roads – all potentially fatal problems.

Urgent response

No matter how well haul roads are maintained or how careful a company is to stick to the highest safety standards, incidents occur and accidents unfortunately happen. This is perhaps where an automated drone is most valuable, as it can immediately launch and fly to the accident site to begin providing essential imagery and information to those communicating with first responders and other personnel – no waiting for a drone pilot or furiously trying to change a battery to get it up in the air, wasting valuable minutes or longer while lives may be in danger. Automated drones can also equip themselves with sensors designed to detect chemical spills and other leaks, enabling any necessary countermeasures to be undertaken as quickly as possible.

The drone for the job

The benefits of keeping haul roads in the safest possible condition are many. Most obviously and most importantly, drivers and other personnel are protected. Additionally, the safer haul roads are, the more efficient transportation is, which means decreased fuel expenses, decreased truck and equipment maintenance costs, faster cycle times and higher productivity. To think, one drone equipped with end to end automation can make it all possible. That is a valuable team player.