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CSIRO’s Underground Drone Spin-Off Receives $3.5 Million Funding

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CSIRO’s Underground Drone Spin-Off Receives $3.5 Million Funding

Drone tech innovations are making working environments safer in high risk industry. For example underground or subterranean environments like mines. Now, Queensland-based start-up, Emesent, has raised $3.5 million in venture capital to commercialise its autonomous drone technology.

Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO Innovation Fund and Bechtel Mining executive Andy Greig led the funding round for Emesent’s first product, Hovermap. Developed by former researchers from CSIRO’s Data61, data from Hovermap can be used to compare the stope design to the actual post-blast shape to detect over-break and under-break, identify geotechnical structures and generate accurate post-blast volume reconciliations.

Emesent’s Hovermap, is installed on drones to automate data collection in underground areas too dangerous or difficult for people to survey, such as stopes in mines. It equips a standard DJI drone with a powerful lidar sensor and a powerful onboard computing rig that performs simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) work fast enough that the craft can fly using it.

Dr Stefan Hrabar, co-founder and CEO of Emesent, told The Australian Financial Review, “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.”

Hrabar and his co-founder Farid Kendoul participated in the CSIRO ON accelerator program, which was the catalyst for the commercialisation of the venture. Emesent received support from CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program, both supported by the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. Emesent’s Hovermap system is already being used commercially for a variety of applications and The Company has been doing paid trials with 20 enterprises in a range of industries globally from Australia, the US, Canada to China and Japan. These trials have been revenue-generating and have let companies like Telstra get early access to the drones for inspection of its cell phone towers.

Last year, the Hovermap technology enabled the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

“GPS relies on visibility to the open sky, which restricts drones to be used in those areas. But there’s many applications where you’d like to be able to go and do an inspection where there is no GPS, for example in underground mining,” Hrabar said.

In September Main Sequence announced that it had raised an additional $132 million for its fund, taking its total to $232 million, bringing on board superannuation fund Hostplus, Singapore government’s Temasek and US aerospace and defence multinational Lockheed Martin as investors.

CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall said Emesent had hit an “innovation sweet spot”. “Emesent is partnered with CSIRO’s Data61 to compete in the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new Subterranean Challenge, aimed at encouraging innovative technologies to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments. Emesent is the only non-American group to be selected.

Hrabar says, “It’s pretty fortuitous, we’ve been doing underground autonomy for years, and then DARPA announces this challenge on exactly what we’re doing.”

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Cite this article as: Vidi Nene, "CSIRO’s Underground Drone Spin-Off Receives $3.5 Million Funding," in DroneBelow.com, November 7, 2018, https://dronebelow.com/2018/11/07/csiros-underground-drone-spin-off-receives-3-5-million-funding/.
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