Laser scanners are a relatively new tool in the world of mining technology. These scanners can be deployed on platforms that are airborne, terrestrial or underground. Each setup is optimized for different environments, and therefore different applications. Here is a quick overview of the three sensor platforms and some of their common applications in mining:
- Airborne – Airborne laser scanners take advantage of their high vantage points to survey large areas on the Earth’s surface, such as stockpiles, dykes, and waste facilities. Before laser scanning technology, open-cast mining sites, oil and gas pipelines, roads, and power transmission lines were mapped using aerial photogrammetric surveys. The constraint here was not the scanning sensor technology, but instead the payload capacity of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) used to carry the sensors; miniaturization was the bottleneck for airborne laser scanning. Nowadays, UAVs can carry both airborne laser scanners and visual cameras, allowing the point cloud data to be co-registered with RGBN imagery. Such systems have only been available for a few years and have become very popular in the mining industry, given their performance, flexibility and mobility.
- Terrestrial – Up to this point, using land laser scanners has proven to be very successful for open-cast mine sites and their areas of influence. One interesting example of laser scanners in open pit mines is accident/incident investigation. 3D point clouds from such scenes will provide investigators a scaled, 3D view of the area, which helps them to determine causes and prevent similar accidents in the future. The platforms for terrestrial scanners used to be constrained to tripods (i.e., stationary scanning), but in recent years have been installed on mobile platforms allowing for greater flexibility and speed.Similar to the airborne scanners, terrestrial scanning data is often over laid with photographs to create a life-like and visually accurate representation of the environment.
- Underground–This is an inherently challenging working environment due to its confined spaces and lack of ‘big picture’ visibility. Any opportunity to generate accurate, 3D data in the underground is usually welcome, hence the recent interest in underground laser scanning. Purpose-built, stationary laser scanners for underground have only been on the market for a few years; initial use cases were accident investigations, convergence monitoring, overbreak studies and stope volumetric calculations. However, the mobile laser scanning revolution has now made it to the underground, with the first mobile 3D laser scanner designed specifically for underground mines having hit the market earlier this year. Under development since 2006 and built on state-of-the-art technology, the uGPS Rapid Mapper™ is an infrastructure-independent sensory system that provides 3D point cloud acquisition capability on a mobile platform. Using sophisticated mapping and filtering algorithms, uGPS Rapid Mapper™ is OEM, machine and software agnostic and can provide accurate, georeferenced 3D point cloud data in a fraction of the time of conventional methods. This has allowed for a wide range of new opportunities for underground mine surveying, such as rapid development pick-ups, shaft scanning/monitoring, ultra-fast mine visualization capabilities and many more.