Mention drones, and imaginations float skyward to everything from aerial photography to package deliveries to weapons of war. But it was after a job underground two years ago that Pierre Filiatreault and his colleagues at Hatch in Sudbury began to see the true potential of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“There was a local client that had an ore pass that was clogged underground,” said Filiatreault, who specializes in control automation and electrical, and serves as Hatch’s resident UAV expert.
“It’s very dangerous and there has been a few incidents locally where it has caused deaths, so the idea was to grab a drone and fly it up an ore pass so we could determine the height and capture some images of what the blockage looks like, so we could feed that to operations and they could make better decisions, all while doing it relatively safely and not putting anyone at harm.
“That got the ball rolling, and then once we started talking about it, we started looking at many applications. There are so many out there, from pipeline inspections to mapping and surveying. One that we’re doing that’s really interesting is water sampling.”
That involves using a high-payload drone that is able to collect water samples at depth – Filiatreault and his co-workers collected a one-litre sample from 65 metres below the surface during a trial run in Northern Ontario.
“The business case we had involves pit lakes,” Filiatreault said. “The pit is under care and maintenance and they use the decline to launch their boat, but the decline is, in some cases, not in the best state.
We remove all of that from the picture. There’s no boats, there’s no working on the water. There are all these safety precautions, like you’re supposed to have two crews, one backup, all this stuff, but with the drones, from the side of the pit, we can take off, collect the sample with the drone and retrieve it.”
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