We’ve heard plenty about the potential of drones when it comes to the mining industry. But more often than not these applications are associated with mapping, modelling, tracking the progress of operations and measuring stockpiles or inventory above ground. A lesser known use for drones is exploration below the surface. Swedish startup Inkonova is leading the way in this field, with a unique drone named the Tilt Ranger.
So how do you explore vast underground caverns without the use of GPS? How do you scan underground mines quickly and safely in the darkness? The answer, according to Inkonova, is Tilt Ranger, a drone that comes with wheels. Or a land vehicle that comes with props, depending on your viewpoint.
Its rugged design allows the Tilt Ranger to get around and adapt to its environment. The rotors are protected by carbon fibre covers, while oversized wheels allow it to roll along ground even over inclined, uneven surfaces. Essentially, the Tilt Ranger can run, climb and fly. Its rotors can tilt to support its movement or carry the drone’s full weight.
With 20 minutes of flight time and three First Person View (FPV), low lux, cameras for dark environments, the pilot can use an on-screen display to see what’s going on even in dark, dangerous and hard-to-reach scenarios.
But having a view of the surroundings is just the beginning. The Tilt Ranger carries a 1kg laser scanner and utilizes a technique called SLAM to calculate distances and develop an accurate map of the environment.
Inkonova recently put the Tilt Ranger to the test to map an underground mine in Mali. In just 10 minutes, the team was able to virtually reconstruct a section of the mine with a volume of roughly 30,000 cubic metres. “It’s not a big challenge to capture such zones quickly,” said co-founder Ahmed AlNomany, speaking with New Scientist.
Unsurprisingly, Inkonova’s drones gaining attention beyond the world of mining. In the future, there are plans to put the Tilt Ranger to use to help decommission nuclear power plants. Despite turning down a nuclear opportunity because of fears over how the propellers would cope with exposure to radiation, the team has not yet been defeated on that front. “We didn’t pursue it further, but we would like to adapt Tilt Ranger for this purpose,” says AlNomany.
Developing an autonomous navigation system in GPS-deprived, low-light environments
One of Inkonova’s main goals is to develop a system that allows its drones to work autonomously in underground situations. The team is currently developing an autonomous navigation system for aerial drones to operate despite three constraints: “GPS-deprived, light-deprived and space-tight environments.”
The exploratory potential of such technology would go way beyond mining.