Coal Age

OCT-NOV 2017

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26 October/November 2017 stockpiles Stockpile Volumetrics: The Drone-based Solutions Buyer's Guide Suppliers offer turnkey solutions that reveal a trend toward enabling eventual continuous monitoring by jesse morton, technical writer Everyone in the drone-based stockpile volumetrics solutions sector could tech- nically be labeled a startup. The sector is maybe a half decade old, and even the tenured players have barely been at it that long. Nonetheless, an idea whose time has come is usually punctual. Thus, the field is growing. And at mine sites around the world, increasingly inexpensive, accurate and fast drone-based solutions are chang- ing expectations and workflows, and could soon make obsolete some longstanding inventory auditing norms. Kespry One of the bigger drone-based stock- pile volumetrics solutions providers is in enough mines to have felt the subtle but defined sea change. "What is fascinating to see is the shift," said George Mathew, CEO, Kespry. "Initially people looked at the drone as a way of being able to reliably conduct an audit on a quarterly or bian- nual basis. "It is no longer about the audit occur- ring on a semi-frequent basis, but is now about the concept of continuous invento- ry management and being able to under- stand what the change over time is." That push is driven in part by the speed and accuracy of drone-based solu- tions. The fact that it is gaining steam across the mining sector is also testament, at least in part, to the ease-of-use and re- liability of Kespry's solution, Mathew said. "We think the impact of what we are ac- complishing is to drive the efficiency in gross margin, specifically when it comes to better inventory management and in- ventory planning around mining and ag- gregates operations," he said. "That has been proven by the fact that we have the most of the large customers in the market from a mining and aggregates standpoint in North America." Depending on who someone talks to, Kespry may be the biggest player serv- ing in the mining sector. Headquartered in Menlo Park, California, the company serves 125 customers in North America, many of which operate Kespry drones at up to 40 mine sites across the U.S. and into Canada. It got there by crafting one of the more streamlined solutions now offered. The solution is sold as a subscription. One subscription includes the hardware, the "data pipeline," access to the cloud platform, "the reporting layer," the "cus- tomer success" services, and flight insur- ance, Mathew said. The hardware consists of the drone, an iPad, communications array and batteries. The offering outsells those of competitors that aren't as inclu- sive and integrated because "customers have to get on with their day jobs, and to be tinkering around with the parts or pieces of this thing, and stitching it to- gether themselves, is time-intensive and laborious," Mathew said. "We believe that having a fully integrated solution that isn't piecemealed in any way enables our cus- tomer to be push-button up and running and successful." The drone was developed and is pro- duced by Kespry. It is described as fully au- tonomous. "We don't have a joystick in the solution," Mathew said. "Your instruction set of the geofence and the asset area that you fly is punched into an iPad by draw- ing a polygon directly around the asset area with your finger," Mathew said. The user then checks off a working list of items regarding flight space and weather condi- tions. "Then you are pushing the start but- ton and the drone automatically takes off and flies the asset area to collect the imag- ery and additional sensor-based informa- tion so that we can create the downstream processes and applications that support the inventory management-use case," Mathew said. The user at any point can take control of the drone, he said. "There are four man- ual buttons built into the communications array that enable the drone's propellers to be shut off, that does vertical landing, that pauses the drone and that returns the drone home," Mathew said. "Other than Kespry's turnkey solution, purchased as a subscription, includes access to cloud-based software enabling the user to manipulate models to extract specific information. (Image: Kespry)

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