Coal Age

OCT-NOV 2017

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October/November 2017 27 stockpiles continued that, the rest of the experience is com- pletely autonomous in terms of how it de- livers the workload." The simplicity of mission planning and control empowers mining profession- als with skills other than piloting. "Literal- ly, people are doing it without any previ- ous drone pilot training," Mathew said. Upon landing, the drone automatical- ly connects and speaks to the correspond- ing iPad. The iPad can store the data until it has the needed connectivity, and then it uploads it to the cloud platform. "No one else actually does that the way we do it," Mathew said. The platform synthesizes camera and sensor data into a 3-D model, "which is constructed using 2-D imagery converted to 3-D using photogrammetry," he said. "If you are using precision GPS, the model's accuracy is down to 3 centi- meters of x, y and z," Mathew said. "That enables a level of accuracy that would be traditionally considered survey-grade." The model can be used for multiple applications, to include inventory planning and stockpile volumetrics, which Mathews described as "hyper-accurate within 1%- 2% of the actual material." The platform autocorrects for interference. "With all of the various things that get in the way of GPS signals, like ionospheric interference, solar flares, and storm conditions that create GPS drift, we correct for all that," he said. Sharing the resulting images, graphics and numbers is easy, Mathew said. "Our entire reporting framework enables you to get the data out of Kespry into a nicely formatted report or a nicely packaged data set that can be brought into third-party tools very seamlessly as well as reported out to end users," he said. The cloud platform generates two pri- mary reporting deliverables. "We support a full-page layout PDF outputted report that is specific to an inventory manage- ment set of scenarios where you have a standard start date, a standard end date," and the change over time is presented, Mathew said. "The second step is support- ing the data downloads themselves," he said. "In that regard, we have 35 file for- mats that we support natively." The entire time allotment, from flight to report, is usually roughly three hours for a midsized site. Kespry provides training on use of its system. For the Federal Aviation Adminis- tration Part 107 certification, "we point you to the right material, and you have to spend a good set of time studying for it," Mathew said. "The Kespry-specific training is quite literally just a few hours of work." A subscription includes $1 million of flight liability insurance. It also includes what the company refers to as its custom- er success services, available for support and troubleshooting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific. "From a responsiveness stand- point, anytime an issue comes into Kespry Hefty Drone Sets World Record for Flight Recently, the Skyfront Tailwind multirotor drone set a world record for time aloft with a 4-hour, 34-minute flight. That time is better than the average for multirotor drones by an order of magnitude and beats some fixed-wing drones, which have their own limitations, Troy Mestler, CEO, said. "Those types of drones require a runway to take off and land and are difficult to pilot," he said. "The Tailwind is easy to takeoff. It is easy to land. It is easy to fly." It is also powerful. The drone can tote a 3-kilogram payload for a flight of more than an hour. "This is a big advantage if you want to use LIDAR or carry large cameras to do volumetric analyses or survey large areas," Mestler said. The Tailwind is powered by a hybrid-electric power source, dubbed NovaGen, which converts gasoline to electricity in flight. Mestler said it was conceived when he purchased his first drone and "was very disappointed" at the 20-minute flight time. He and a friend started Skyfront to address a problem shared by companies that use drones for commercial purposes. "We realized they were having trouble us- ing the technology because of limited range and endurance," Mestler said. "It was basically becoming a real problem for them because they couldn't perform the types of jobs that they were being requested to." The Tailwind went from the drawing board to development in 2014. In September, Skyfront announced the drone had set a record. "We have video proof," Mestler said. Long, automated flights and superior heft should translate into viability in the mine stockpile volumetrics space, Mestler said. The Tailwind can autonomously cover even the largest mines in a single flight, he said. "The big advantage here is the operator doesn't have to interact with the drone constantly to swap out batteries and relaunch it from different points within the mine," Mestler said. Additionally, being able to hoist a LIDAR system represents "a big advantage," empower- ing the miner with more accurate models and data, he said. "They can be used to generate really accurate 3-D colored models when they are combined with cameras," Mestler said, "and most mining drones only use photogrammetry, which is good but it has its drawbacks because that process, creating a photogrammetric model, can take time." The company offers what it calls the Early Access Program. Basi- cally, for a fee and a monthly rate, the company leases out the drone and provides the expertise to integrate it into the customer's workflows and hit the initial production targets. "As part of the program, we will integrate custom sensors and cameras and third-party software — whatever they are used to," Mestler said. Company personnel provide training, facilitate software integration, and conduct some tests to ensure goals are being met. Training typically lasts three days and topics include piloting, maintenance, data collection and processing. "The program is really about making sure that the Tailwind can serve the exact needs of the customer," he added. The program allows the customer to evaluate the technology and the services provided. Participation can be canceled at any time for any reason, Mestler said. "We're willing to take this risk and provide the drones in this way because we are confident in the continued value that the Tailwind will provide." Skyfront also assists in attaining the FAA license and insurance, and provides customer service response times of less than a business day, seven days a week, Mestler said. "If there is anything that needs to be built, any software that needs to be written in order to process data, if there is any troubleshooting that needs to take place, we will provide those services both on and off-site." The Tailwind flew for more than 4.5 hours, a time far greater than the average multirotor drone.

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