New autonomous technology making life safer for miners underground
A company that has created an autonomous drone designed for mining, is helping to make the industry safer, through its new partnership with NSS Canada based in Sudbury, Ont.
The latest in cavity monitoring tools can now fly through underground shafts and stopes without the help of a pilot.
"We wanted to expand our footprint into northern Ontario and into Sudbury in particular. Sudbury's a great region now with upcoming technology in the mining sector, and NSS and Exyn working together seemed like a natural fit," said Raffi Jabrayan, vice-president of Exyn.
NSS Canada is helping to sell the product in the Canadian market, allowing Exyn to establish a footprint.
"It ensures that we are keeping miners away from open stopes and far, far away from the berms and undersupported ground," Jabrayan said. "What the drone is able to do is scan open areas, cavities like open stopes, in mere minutes as opposed to the couple of hours that some of the older technologies would take."
The kicker is that the technology is autonomous, meaning no pilot. The drone can be set up to fly by itself providing results back in a safer, quicker, and more efficient manner.
The drone has what's called 'level 4' autonomy - which means it doesn't require any tethering whatsoever. It's given a mission and it can go beyond the line of sight, collecting the needed data and it gets back safely.
"Something like this didn't exist three or four years ago," Jabrayan said. "The way I met Exyn Technologies, was I was helping to run business development for Dundee Precious Metals and we were looking at the digital innovation over there. We met with the team with Exyn and saw they had something so cutting-edge that we didn't believe what they were actually able to do."
The technology is being made available alongside NSS Canada's Miner Operated Survey System (MOSS), an underground survey software that provides information back to operators in real-time.
"What we've developed and housed is a software that allows us to get real-time data of the face and, naturally, what we wanted to do is how do we get more real-time data? And Exyn came. The partnership was a natural fit and it completes a loop, which makes a lot of sense," said Bruno Lalonde, the president of NSS Canada.
"What it comes down to is integration and technology. Where mining has become something that we really understand with the underground space, it's the focus on safety, taking men away from the face, that's what our MOSS software does," he said.
Lalonde said as technology excels underground, it's creating fewer hazards for the industry so that everyone can come home safely.
And so far, the industry is taking note, with some of the region's biggest players already buying into this partnership.
"We first trialed them in early 2020 and we did an experiment to see could they really do what we wanted them to do underground? And they did, really successfully. The ability to fly autonomously, the ability to collect data without putting a colleague in a hazardous situation, made them a 'no-brainer' for us," said Anthony Downs, manager of digital transformation at Vale.
It's so been so successful at Vale that they've invested in one drone for each of the company's Ontario mining operations.
Downs reinforced this is about safety, keeping existing workers out of dangerous situations.
"There's always going to be room for people in our business, but there are particularly hazardous situations today where we take precautions, but we'd still, ideally, not like to put a person in there. And if we can use engineering and technology to achieve that, then that's a win all around," he said.
"Realistically, we see great things moving forward. We've closed some major sales up in this region," said Exyn CEO Nader Elm.
Exyn Technologies was originally selling the ExynAero itself, but partnering with regional companies will help them to reach more of a global status with its drone use.
"None of us were experts in mining initially, but what we discovered with our expertise was the challenges in mining we could uniquely solve," Elm said. "Very quickly, we started using our resources in things like mining and engineering to problems over there."
Exyn officials said the drones are affordable and environmentally friendly because ExynAeros run on battery power.
"Safety is a critical aspect of everything we do. We started off in mining, but it's not the be-all and end-all for us. We're looking for other applications and at the crux of that is safety. We want to send in robots -which is a key enabler for people - not only to do our jobs more effectively but more safely," Elm said.