Mine Planning, Safety, and Regulations Meet Drones

In my previous articles, I spoke about how drones are being using within civil construction and insurance to help with site progress tracking and claims fulfillment respectively. In this article, I’ll focus more on how drones are currently being using in Mining applications to plan, monitor safety, and ensure regulatory compliance. Of all of the industries currently using drones, the mining industry is best suited to take advantage of today’s technology and current regulatory climate.

Throughout the 20th century, underground mining was the dominating technique, but within the last decade, open put mining  has become more popular due to the cost and time savings. The ICMM reports that “Technology developments have made it possible to mine ores of declining grades and more complex mineralogy without increasing costs”. These new advances in mining equipment include the ability to capture aerial images of these mines, generate a 3D orthomosaic, and manage your site with a ten thousand foot view (more like 400 ft with today’s regulations). This fast growing industry is best equipped to take advantage of this new technology. In 2016, the consumption of construction aggregates worldwide was estimated at 43.3 billion metric tons (BMT) with a value of $350 billion. Production volume is anticipated to reach 62.9 BMT by 2024.

So what’s the value?

Drones and the data that drones can provide offer huge advantages throughout the mining and aggregates production life cycle including exploration, planning and permitting, operations, and reclamation. Traditionally mines would hire surveyors to come out and map their site to perform these operations. As UAVs become more workflow specific and easy to use, we will begin to see increased use on mines due to cost and time savings.

Today, mines are using drones for hundreds of different activities, including communication of weekly plans, haul road management (grades, berms, beams), stockpile management, safety assessments, pre and post blast analysis, and much, much more. Lucky Stone, the U.S’s largest family-owned producer of crushed stone, sand, and gravel, partnered with Airware because of its analytics tools developed specifically for the mining and aggregates industry. The system allows them to plan drone flights, capture high-quality data, analyze it, and create a survey-grade mine and quarry site map of up to 1,000 acres per day. But the added value is Airware’s software connections with Caterpillar’s machine telematics data.

So who are the people involved?

Mine Planners and Site Managers have the most to benefit from using UAV technology. A mine planner is responsible for determining the best way for a mining company to extract a resource from a site. They assist with setting management plans and deadlines, blast planning, haul road management, drainage assessment, all while ensuring safety at the mine. Site Managers are responsible for the day to day operations on site, ensuring correct production levels, shipments, and deadlines. Both of these personas as best suited to use the aerial models to complete their day to day activities while allowing them a complete picture to make quick, decisive decisions.

So what does the process look like?

The process for mining planning varies vastly on what the mine planner or site manager wish to perform on site. One common attribute across mines and aggregates sites, is the need to perform monthly stockpile inventory checks to ensure production levels are met, and shipments can be delivered. Previously, site managers would estimate their inventory levels based on the scales and conveyors on site, many of which provide inaccurate numbers, and can skew results. Once a year, they would perform a thorough inventory check by bringing in a surveyors to survey all of the piles of inventory on a site, a task that could take weeks. Today, using drones, site managers can perform weekly and month inventory checks with the utmost accuracy. By performing a short flight over their site, they can view a 3D model of their site and stockpiles, and automatically measuring the amount of volume and mass of material they have on site.

Mine Planning, on the other hand, is another challenge entirely. Mine Planners must ensure they can maximize the return on site, while ensuring the mine meets regulations and is safe for operation. Using the 3D model produced by drone, they can measure haul road grades and widths, measure the heights of beams and berms on haul roads, and measure cross-falls to ensure safety and compliance. A task that could take weeks, now takes a short drone flight.

So what does the future look like?

And that just about covers it. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of industries currently using drones, it does cover the primary industries currently leverage drone technology to improve their business processes. Within the next few years, we’ll begin to see far more industries making greater use of these technologies within utilities, transportation, and logistics.

If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, or have your own thoughts about where the industry is headed, comments, or shoot me a message. Thanks for reading!

Check out the other articles posted in this series below:

How Insurance Companies Are Using Drone Technology To Quickly Address Claims

Can Drones Shape The Future Of Civil Construction


About the Author:

Jay Mulakala has been exploring the drone industry for over 4 years, most recently as the Product Manager at Kespry, working to help build the next generation of cloud applications within Aggregates and Mining, Construction, and Insurance. Jay has also co-founded FreeSkies, a Bay-area drone startup that revolutionized consumer drones for use in professional photography and videography. He is a Part 107 certified remote pilot and offers private aerial photography and videography services through Skyfran Aerial Photography and Videography. He has also been rated as one of the most viewed writers in Drones on Quora. Find out more at



Can Drones Shape The Future Of Civil Construction

This article is the second in a 3 part series covering how drones are being used in insurance, civil construction, and mining, and how it affects the people and processes within these industries. This article has also been reposted on Linkedin.

In my last article, I spoke about how drones are currently being used by insurance providers, both for claim adjustments, underwriting, and damage assessments. In this article, I’ll focus more on how drones are being utilized within the construction industry to optimize production plans, mitigate losses, efficiently plan resources, and communicate progress to stakeholders. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the the global construction industry will spend over $57 trillion on infrastructure projects before 2030. Companies are faced with such a large growth opportunity, but many have remained archaic in their methods, resulting in missing deadlines, cost overruns, and thinning margins. John Deere has partnered with Kespry to provide a seamless integration for their partners and customers, while Komatsu, one of Japan’s largest construction firms, just placed an order for 1000 high-precision drones from Skycatch and DJI. A growth opportunity of this magnitude presents benefits for all players in the industry to address major structural and procedural challenges.


Using systems currently available in the market, surveyors can get down to 2 cm of absolute accuracy, and cover over 150 acres in a 30 minute flight. Airware and Kespry are two of those companies currently providing both hardware and software solutions for surveyors to achieve this level of accuracy. The value proposition is simple. By using a drone to gather aerial analytics, surveyors are essentially capturing a snapshot of their site in time. By compiling these snapshots together, not only can surveyors see and share their progress over time visually, but they can gather in-depth analytics about how their cut and fill activities are performing, if they are on schedule in grading their site, and predict completion dates based on historical data.


Project Managers, Site Managers, and Surveyors are those primarily using drone technology today to address a lot of the issues affecting the construction industry. Project Managers are responsibly for building a plan and ensuring construction remains on schedule. Slight miscalculations early on can cause dramatic delays and cost overruns down the line. Site Managers ensure the construction site is within regulations, meets specifications, and ensure worker safety throughout the duration of the project. They use drones to check for drainage on site, where equipment is located, and ensure the safety of equipment and workers on site. Individual surveyors may also be brought in to measure cut and fill across a construction site. Armed with drone technology, they can quickly, easily, and accurately perform a volumetric analysis of a construction site and generate a progress report of cut fill activity on site at any given moment in time.


The process today is fairly straightforward and simple. Project Managers on site need to visualize and measure how their cut fill grading operations are performing. Many PM’s will fly the drone once a month over their site. Some will fly more often if they need to reach a specific deadline. Using that snapshot, and the resulting orthomosaic and 3D model, they can measure the volume of material that needs to be cut or filled in different areas around their site. Job-site managers can use heat maps to visualize the surface changes, measure the grade of a line, surface area, and perform a complete volumetric analysis. Armed with that knowledge, they can estimate how long it would take to grade the site based on how much equipment is available to them and how much material their vehicles can move per hour. Some of the more advanced tools such as Pix4D mapper can automatically measure the amount of material moved and estimate a completion date based on the site’s design plan. This tool along with various third party plugins also offer integrations to easily transfer data to downstream processing in traditional CAD software and project management tools. Common issues that arise throughout construction are geological surprises, the inability share frequent and accurate data, and disconnected project planning.


The future of drones within construction relies on companies focused on the data and analytics that can be attained using these new aerial tools. The more companies move away from being solely drone companies to be being aerial analytics companies, the sooner construction companies will begin to realize the immense potential these tools can provide. New technologies are already being implemented within the UAV space, like artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance and deliver accurate results. The rewards available to the companies bold enough to adopt this new technology are never ending. Teams will have better information, to make better decisions, and deliver results. They’ll have the competitive advantage of being leaders that shape the path to where the construction industry will be decades from now.

That’s all for today, but check back next week for the other posts in this series:

How Insurance Companies Are Using Drone Technology To Quickly Address Claims

Mine Planning, Safety, And Regulations Meets Drones



Jay Mulakala has been exploring the drone industry for over 4 years, most recently as the Product Manager at Kespry, working to help build the next generation of cloud applications within Aggregates and Mining, Construction, and Insurance. Jay has also co-founded FreeSkies, a Bay-area drone startup that revolutionized consumer drones for use in professional photography and videography. He is a Part 107 certified remote pilot and offers private aerial photography and videography services through Skyfran Aerial Photography and Videography. He has also been rated as one of the most view writers in Drones in Quora. Find out more at

Future of Drones

The Future of Drones: 7 Bold Trends for 2018

As we welcome the new year, it’s exciting to hear more about some of the new trends facing the commercial drone industry in 2018. Not only has the industry gained traction, but it’s been brought into the national spotlight during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. For the first time, the public has an aerial view of the widespread impact of these natural disasters while allowing insurance companies to asses and close claims at record breaking speeds.

Last year, I wrote “The Future of Drones: 5 Bold Predictions for 2017” to summarize some of the key predictions for 2017. We saw many companies rise and fall. Most recently, GoPro announced a series of layoffs and dropping out of the commercial UAV business. DJI released the DJI Spark and a new version of the Mavic Pro. News of John Deere and Kespry teaming up to help construction and mining companies use drones,  the partnership between Caterpillar and Airware, and DroneDeploy releasing an enterprise level solution are all great illustrations of how and where professionals are going to have the best opportunity to get their hands on drones. E

Going into 2018, I believe we’ll see continued growth in the commercial UAV space, and a bigger push from UAV manufacturers, service providers, and startups into the enterprise space as local regulations begin to relax and drones can fly farther, fly longer, and fly autonomously.

1. DJI will continue to grow quicker and faster as they enter into new verticals

DJI has been the unprecedented, market leader in the consumer drone space. It’s estimated they own about 72% of the global market for consumer drones, and even higher when considering their primary product line of prosumer drones (ex Phantom series, Inspire series, Matrice series). DJI has also slowly and quietly been exploring additional verticals and enterprise use cases to propel the company beyond consumer hardware, as can be seen with their entrance into the Agriculture space with the AGRAS MG-1 drone.

2. Drones will become more workflow driven as industries realize their true potential

Today, anybody and their grandmother can buy a consumer drone off the shelf. New services even allow them to monetize their drones by filming residential properties or events. As we begin to see larger enterprise applications open up in agriculture, aggregates, construction, and insurance, the industries will demand a much more robust, efficient system that can easily integrate into their existing workflows. This means better integration of aerial data with current project management software, inventory management systems, and claims estimation solutions.

3. Interconnected systems will allow for larger fleet deployments

As drones move from small innovation groups to larger enterprise deployments, we will begin to see larger and larger fleets being deployed. Interconnected drones, hardware, and systems will make it easier than even for larger enterprise customers to view and and manage a fleet of operators and drones across the organization. These building blocks will help build and shape a more unified air traffic management solution moving into the future.

4. We will begin to new entrants into the space, while others begin to consolidate

As we progress into 2018, we will begin to see the dominant players in the hardware and software space begin to materialize. Today, there are hundreds of scattered drone startups, hardware manufacturers, and software cluttering the environment. The acquisitions and consolidations have already begun, with GoPro leaving the drone industry, and Redbird’s acquisition. On the other end of the spectrum, we will see new entrants putting their hat in the ring. Existing drone programs will enter the mainstream with companies like Intel, Google, and Facebook will begin to take their drone programs from the R&D stage towards productization.

5. New sensors and equipment will allow for new use cases

In 2017, we’ve seen a few organizations begin to use thermal imagery to assist with search and rescue operations and firefighting. As we progress into 2018, we will begin to see additional sensors such as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) become a norm on enterprise UAV’s, allowing them to pierce through heavy vegetation and cover, and detect narrow objects like power lines, pipelines, and roof edges far better than orthomosaic imagery.

6. Regulations will continue to ease up and enable new use cases

We will begin to see progress with Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solutions and drone integration, a technology that will be as crucial for the commercial drone industry as the Part 107 certification and drone registrations. The FAA has already begun issuing limited waivers for certain companies to test UAV’s beyond line of sight, and we will continue to see that trend through 2018. Waivers in the future will help increase drone adoption as we can have people in the field managing swarms of drones to perform functions ranging from package deliveries to pipeline inspections.

7. Piloting will become more automated with intelligent mission planning

Today, there are a variety of different tools at the pilots disposal for mission planning, from full manual control, to completely automated systems. In 2018, we will begin to see more advancements in obstacle detection and avoidance, artificial intelligence, the unmanned traffic management system, and ease of controlling fleets of aircraft. Intel has already shown us a sneak peak by flying 250 drones over the Bellagio during CES. These advancements will require mission planning and piloting to become far more automated, providing pilots with limited manual control, but addressing concerns around safety, privacy, and security.

The commercial drone industry shows no sign of stopping, and we can expect to see a dramatic increase in enterprise aerial applications in our communities and around the world.

Additional Resources:

  1. Drone Analyst –
  2. DroneDeploy –
  3. Dronelife –
  4. Cisco Blog –
  5. Cnet –
  6. CNBC –
  7. Commerical UAV News –
  8. Seeking Alpha –
  9. Venture Beats –
  • Header image from The Conversation