Exyn drone maps inactive mine on the fly

The Robot Report
Exyn Technologies

Exyn Technologies drone navigating and mapping a previously-inactive mine. | Credit: Exyn Technologies

Ascot Resources geologists knew from surface drilling programs that there was still some gold in a mine that had been inactive since the 1940s. But they needed more information to determine how much resource remained.

Surveying a previously active mine typically would be done by a specialist with handheld laser tools, but areas of the mine were inaccessible or unsafe for personnel. In the past, this would have meant leaving the old mine area closed or investing a large amount of money to make it safe prior to exploration.

With Exyn Technologies’ aerial drones, which can autonomously navigate environments without the need for a pilot or prior map, Ascot Resources, and other resource extractors, have a new way to accurately calculate material in inactive mines.

Older mines like this one at Big Missouri Ridge also are different than modern mines for a variety of reasons. Narrower tunnels and more limited vehicle access due to the constraints of 1940s technology presented logistical challenges for human teams that would attempt to survey the mine.

Ascot wanted to remove the guesswork from the process of developing a map of the mine. As Ascot management weighed their options for accessing the mine, they turned to Exyn Technologies, which spun out of the University of Pennsylvania GRASP Laboratory in 2014.

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How Exyn Technologies’ system works

Exyn’s system uses multiple sensors to perceive the environment – cameras, LiDAR, radar, and RGBD – and late-stage sensor fusion that compiles data in real time to estimate a drone’s position and orientation relative to where it started. Exyn uses LiDAR as the primary sensor for SLAM and for part of the system’s state estimation.

Exyn’s software does offer a sliding scale of autonomy to make it applicable for a variety of applications. The autonomy scale ranges from fully autonomous, self-piloted flight with collision avoidance to pilot-assisted flight that uses exynAI’s sense-and-avoid technology.

The maps created by Exyn were cross-referenced against the historical map of the mine. This helped Ascot Resources better determine exactly how much of the mine had already been excavated, and which sections potentially still contained valuable resource.

Using Exyn’s technology, the process was not only safer and more cost-effective than if performed by human surveyors, but it provided a more complete map more quickly than alternative approaches. This technology can potentially reopen other long-disused mines that may still have valuable materials inside.

“At Ascot we are looking to use the facilities available at former producing mines to extract new resources that we are currently drilling. Exyn came to our site to show us the autonomous capabilities of their drone technology, and were very impressed with the timeliness and quality of the data acquired,” said John Kiernan, COO of Ascot Resources. “Looking forward, we think this technology will be used to safely explore and evaluate the condition of underground mines, while also potentially providing cost savings in mine surveying and ventilation monitoring.”

Exyn raised $16 million in Series A funding earlier in 2019.

Exyn Technologies

A look inside the mine Exyn Technologies mapped for Ascot Resources. | Credit: Exyn Technologies

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