The tunnel-mapping drones in ‘Prometheus’ are now real thanks to Aussie scientists
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In Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus, scientists of the future launch tunnel-mapping drones to explore a mysterious alien structure.
Now Australian scientists from a CSIRO spin-off Emesent have raised $3.5 million to commercialise a similar tunnel-mapping device that could revolutionise mining.
Emesent’s “Hovermap” device is an autonomous drone used to collect data in underground areas too dangerous or difficult for people to survey.
Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO Innovation Fund, led the funding round along with Bechtel mining executive Andy Greig.
Drones installed with Hovermap can be used in areas where GPS doesn’t work, and without a human controller, to create 3D maps, and record gas readings, videos and images.
“Hovermap enables the mining industry to safely inspect inaccessible areas of underground mines, while improving the type and quality of data collected to unlock new insights,” Dr Stefan Hrabar, co-founder and CEO of Emesent said.
“The data we gather improves a mine’s productivity and provides a better understanding of conditions underground, all without sending surveyors and miners into potentially hazardous areas.”
Watch a drone at work:
Last year, Hovermap conducted the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface, in Western Australia.
“The investment will give us the opportunity to build out our team from seven to 25, and make Emesent a global leader in drone autonomy and automated underground data collection and analysis,” says Dr Hrabar.
Queensland-based Emesent has also received support from CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program. Both Main Sequence Ventures — CSIRO Innovation Fund — and ON are supported by the Federal Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Larry Marshall, CSIRO Chief Executive, sees businesses such as Emesent as a necessary step towards Australia realising its global digital innovation potential.
“Emesent is an example of a company who has hit the innovation sweet spot combining their deep domain experience in mining with digital expertise,” he says.
“This has been harnessed by the environment we have created at CSIRO where deep science combines with innovative ideas and agile minds to create game-changing technologies.
“CSIRO’s strength lies in our knowledge and experience of core markets like mining and agriculture and the channels we create, like our ON program, to deliver digital innovation which is transforming and creating new industries.”
Mike Zimmerman, Partner at Main Sequence Ventures, says Emesent is in a position to take on the global mining industry.
“With a world-class technical team and unparalleled real-world flight experience, Emesent is poised to revolutionise the way data is gathered and used for the underground world,” he says.
“Although there are a number of compelling use cases today, there are many more to be realised, and we fully expect to see this technology become a mainstay in mines around the world.”
Emesent is partnered with CSIRO’s Data61 to compete in the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency’s new Subterranean Challenge, which aims to develop innovative technologies to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments.
It is one of seven funded teams competing and the only team selected from outside the US.