“About three years ago, I was leading digital innovation at a mining company,” Raffi Jabrayan, Vice President of Commercial Sales and Business Development at Exyn Technologies, told Commercial UAV News. “I wanted to use drones to make sure our employees were safer, and I wanted to do things quicker and more efficiently.”

Jabrayan’s search for a solution led him to Exyn Technologies. “I met a team from Exyn at a mining event, and we started working to co-develop a product that got us to where we wanted to be in a few short months.”

That product is powered by the company’s ExynAITM software to enable the safe and accurate 3D mapping and monitoring of mining operations. With this software, drones can operate with “Level 4” autonomy, meaning they can autonomously explore areas where GPS is not effective—and they can do it without the need of a pilot.

“ExynAI is basically the brains of the operation,” Jabrayan said. “It uses the sensor fusion between the IMU onboard, the Velodyne puck, and our collision avoidance/mapping system to achieve full autonomy. It’s our secret sauce.”

According to Jabrayan, Exyn uses this “secret sauce” to tailor solutions to the needs of individual clients. “We take our software, and we apply it to an off-the-shelf product,” he said. “So, the drones, the mapping tool, and the cameras we sell are all off-the-shelf products. We basically sell software systems to enable hardware products.”

The capabilities of ExynAI have helped many mining companies adapt their hardware to make their operations more efficient and safer.

“We operate mostly in underground mines, which are known to be harsh environments,” Jabrayan said. A common activity in an underground mine is the mapping of large cavities called “stopes.”

A stope scan

“Gathering data in underground areas can be quite difficult and dangerous because you have to get close to an open stope, Jabrayan said. “A stope is not somewhere where you want humans entering at all or even getting near.”

Because ExynAI enables drones to operate autonomously, the software has proven its value in stope mapping operations. “Working underground, you don't have GPS because you can't rely on satellites to be your guiding system,” stated Jabrayan. “So, you have to actually use the brains onboard the robot to understand its environment and make decisions.”

With older cavity monitoring technology, he explained, “you actually had to get pretty close to an open stope to be able to map it, and it could take upwards of three to four hours.” Using Exyn’s technology, Jabrayan said, mining operators “can stand 40, 50 or 60 meters back, and map an entire stope in as little as three to five minutes. Also, you have everything in real-time, so the data is available to you immediately.”

Field engineers underground

The technology has been adopted by a number of mining operations around the world. “We worked with a company called Northern Star on one of their mines in Alaska,” Jabrayan said. “They had to map stopes on a daily basis. Their crews were getting too close to it, which wasn’t safe. Also, Northern Star wanted the project to go faster, so they reached out to us.”In response, Exyn sent a team to Alaska and presented a demonstration of how drones using ExynAI could handle the operation. Northern Star signed up quickly. “Now, our drones fly there seven days a week,” Jabrayan said.

Other mining operations in Brazil and Canada have adopted the technology, and more companies have reached out to Exyn for mining solutions. “Now that the mining industry knows there are safer options out there, it just doesn't make sense to send your employees in harm's way,” Jabrayan asserted. “It’s just one of those things that not only makes sense from a financial perspective, it’s also infinitely more safe and efficient.”