An unmanned aerial vehicle surveying Iluka's Victorian Echo mine had a near collision incident with a crop duster.
Late last year a Sensefly eBee 178 UAV was carrying out aerial surveying work over Iluka's Echo mineral sands mines when the incident occurred.
According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau after the operator carried out their re-flight preparations and risk assessment they heard an aircraft operating at a nearby property.
The operator attempted to contact the ag plant aircraft operating nearby, but couldn't raise him on the radio, and instead got the mine manager to contact the farmer and notify the pilot.
However, the information was then miscommunicated to the pilot who assumed, when told that an aircraft was carrying out aerial surveys, it would be a fixed wing plane.
During the UAV's operations it came within 100 metres horizontally and 70 metres vertically of the aircraft. However the pilot was unaware of the near collision incident.
Following an investigation the mine's UAV operator carried out a presentation on UAVs to air traffic controllers at the nearby Moorabbin Tower, with the mine starting a campaign to advise agricultural aircraft operators of their work, what UAVs look like and protocols for sharing airspace.
There has been a recent leap in the use of drones and UAVs in mining.
With the greater push into automation drones are being looked at as a safer, more efficient alternative to traditional surveying.
Speaking to Accenture's Nigel Court, he told Australian Mining that there is forecast a spike in the use of this technology on mines.
He linked this to the increase of remote operation centres currently being seen, as both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto develop their own remote control centres thousands of kilometres from their operations throughout the Pilbara. Drones would typically be used for surveying and mapping on site, however new uses for them such as aerial real time truck fleet management, site and remote infrastructure monitoring, and machinery tracking are all being developed.
Using drones is "a more efficient process, and can produce more real time information in a much safer manner than getting surveyors out on the site," Court stated.
Outlining the mine of future, circa 2020, he stated that drones are likely to be playing an integral role right across the value chain, both on and offsite, delivering value in the areas of exploration and development, safety and security and operational productivity.
He went on to provide a unique example of time savings when using automated drones over workers.
"Imagine there was an issue on the rail line in the Pilbara, from the time the problem is identified to getting the worker out there to see the cause of the issue through to getting someone out there to solve it it could be three hours or more, whereas if a drone is flown over it can reach the site in less than half an hour, take high resolution photos that can be used to identify the problem, after which someone can be sent out to fix out the problem," he said.
"It also has the ability to take high resolution, time lapse pictures of a site to see if fractures have appeared in the rock faces over time for early detection so that it removes much of the risk and increases safety on site."
With drones and UAVs already seeing some use in surveying, the likelihood of this avenue of their use is only set to expand.
"The possibilities for the application of drones in mining are seemingly endless with new uses coming to light every week and more widespread utilisation being reported across the industry," Court said.
"We see potential benefits across the value chain, from safety and security (search & rescue, monitoring / providing information from dangerous and difficult locations) to exploration and development (such as aerial photography and remote sensing) and productivity (stockpile mapping, mine mapping & reconciliation and time lapse photography) just to name a few.
Last month the technology took a leap forward after two major investment moves.
Mining computer tech company Maptek has decided to jump on the airborne surveying bandwagon, having made a significant investment in an Adelaide-based start-up, DroneMetrex .
Dronemetrex has developed an innovative new system, for aerial photogrammetric mapping from a small drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the Topodrone-100.
Dronemetrex managing director Tom Tadrowski would not disclose the exact nature of the investment, instead telling Australian Mining that the Topodrone-100 is a significantly more accurate system than other UAV mapping systems on the market.