Not long ago, the word “drone” conjured up blurry images of military strikes on buildings in war-ravaged countries.

Now mineral explorers such as Alto Metals (ASX:AME) are beginning to use drones to map their tenement holdings.

West Australian gold play Alto Metals is using drones to explore its huge 723 sq km ‘Sandstone’ gold project within the Archean Sandstone Greenstone Belt in the East Murchison mineral field.

Alto Metals
Sandstone project location

“To prepare our exploration programs before, we would have had to have a geologist drive out there in a Land Cruiser and physically walk the ground. It’s very inefficient,” Alto Metals managing director Dermot Ryan told Stockhead.

“Now we can use the drone to fly over the area, look at access, identify old workings in 2D and 3D, determine the orientation of shafts and see where previous drilling has actually taken place — as not all drill holes are reported to the Mines Department.

“We’re trying to build on the information that already exists about Sandstone, that we’ve been able to access through Mines Department records, and this is a very effective way of doing that.”

The company first used the drone — a Phantom 4 worth around $1600 — in the field in June.

Drone footage at the Sandstone project.
Image of old workings taken by Alto’s drone at the Sandstone project.

The drone provided a comprehensive view of historical workings undertaken at the project, Mr Ryan said.

“It’s high-quality imagery that allows us to better prepare for going into the field,” he said.

“The larger image that you are able to stitch together from those taken by the drone gives a very accurate map of the prospect area that helps in exploration planning and setting an environmental baseline.

“It delivers a seamless 3D image of the entire area. It allows you to plan and execute flying patterns with the push of a button.

“It’s all automated and satellite-controlled. It has tremendous advantages in planning, environmental and time management.”

Despite their potential, drones aren’t yet used widely for exploration mapping in the resources industry

One of the world’s biggest miners Rio Tinto is using drones at its massive, open-cut Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah, US to monitor pit slopes for safety — but not for mapping.

“I think drones have huge potential,” Mr Ryan said. “They’re a very advanced exploration tool that allows a bird’s eye view that is current, practically in real-time, not a map that was produced 10 or 20 years ago.”

Alto acquired the Sandstone gold project last year after buying all the issued capital of Sandstone Exploration Pty Ltd.

The area covered by the Sandstone project used to be owned Troy Resources and included the Bulchina deposit which was mined by Troy in 2002.

While it was regarded as a highly profitable operation, by 2004 the mine was depleted and mining ceased with the associated milling operation continuing to process low-grade ore until early 2005.

AME’s shares have traded between 6c and 16c over the past year, closing at 7c on August 4.

The company spent $883,000 in the most recent quarter, leaving it with $928,000 in cash and equivalents at June 30. It expects to spend $670,000 in the current quarter.


This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.