ONE of the many of the solutions that CR Kennedy offers the mining industry are drone and UAV hardware, software and workflow solutions.
The company caters for clients who’re looking for entry-level photogrammetry (the building of auto mosaic images and 3D models from aerial images) right through to the top end users, and everything in between.
Survey-grade is the standard at CR Kennedy, and the company’s focus on accuracy and precision means that it is dedicated to finding the right drone for the right payload for the right job.
The company is also the exclusive dealer of the ground-breaking WingtraOne tail-sitting fixed-wing aerial survey drone.
The WingtraOne is the only fixed-wing Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) drone on the market, offering the nimbleness and versatility of a multi-rotor drone with the long-distance capability of a fixed-wing surveying drone.
CR Kennedy WA UAV sales manager, Graeme Carleton, said that the WingtraOne was able to cover up to eight times the ground of a multi-rotor drone of comparable size.
It also opens up areas that were previously inaccessible for fixed-wing drones because of the VTOL capabilities.
“It enables the user to operate from a small footprint,” Mr Carleton said.
“For a fixed-wing aircraft, you have to launch and land on large, open, cleared areas, but with the WingtraOne its just not necessary.”
Mr Carleton said that to launch a fixed wing aircraft, a pilot would need at least 100m for take-off and landing.
“Even with catapult and hand-launched fixed wings, and a belly land it can be very limiting,” he said.
“In some places your options can be very limited because with a traditional fixed-wing drone you have to take off into the wind, and you have to land into the wind as well.
“When you are flying on site, you might not have enough clearance in the right direction to land the drone.
“The terrain on mine sites is very unforgiving.
“You’re trying to land precision equipment at speed on rocky ground and typically what happens is the airframes get ruined pretty quickly – that’s the hard truth.”
The technical stuff
Combining the long range of the fixed-wing drone with the VTOL capabilities of a multi-rotor was no small feat.
The WingtraOne uses elevons – a cross between ailerons and elevators – to control the roll and the pitch of the aircraft.
In combination with the thrust from the rotors and a sophisticated flight control program, the WingtraOne is able to transition from vertical to horizontal flight without adding any extra moving parts.
This means the WingtraOne is inherently more robust and reliable.
The complex algorithms that govern the flight controller kick into action after the pilot has completed a flight plan and pre-flight check list.
To launch, the drone is placed perpendicular to the wind and takes off on its tail, once it reaches transition height sensors detect and then face the wing into the wind to generate initial lift, and the elevons push the nose down to start horizontal flight.
The flight mission is completely automated from take-off to landing, meaning near-zero chance of human error.
Pilots can, however, assume control of the drone at any stage if there are safety reasons.
While there are two other options available, the payload that CR Kennedy sells with its WingtraOnes is a Sony 42mpxl camera Sony RX1R II.
The payload comes as a modular kit and can be easily swapped out by changing the payload bay, should the customer require a different solution from the drone.
Mr Carleton said that the outstanding resolution provided by the camera means the drone can fly higher and faster than many of its competitors.
“In the photogrammetry world, we talk about ground-sampling distance and that’s the distance between pixels, the distance between one pixel and another in the final image,” he said.
“The Sony RX1R II has enabled our clients to quote on bigger jobs, and to do more work than before because they are not limited by distance.”
When Wingtra approached CR Kennedy, Mr Carleton was keen to put the drone through its paces.
He and the sales team from Wingtra took the WingtraOne out to a WA location specially chosen because of its exposure to wind, heat, and another uniquely Australian variable – wedge tailed eagles.
The giant raptors are famous for attacking and destroying drones, especially fixed-wing drones, that can cost many thousands of dollars to repair and replace.
The drone passed the wind and head tests with flying colours, and the eagles showed little to no interest in it.
This has been put down to the bright orange colour.
Mr Carleton was especially impressed with the range that the drone could cover in a single mission – up to 200ha, which is nearly eight times longer than a multi-rotor drone of a similar capacity – this means that about 80 minutes of operator time could be saved on any given 200ha mission.
Shortly after testing the WingtraOne, CR Kennedy signed on to be the exclusive Australian distributor.
Mr Carleton said there were four of the drones in operation in WA.
“I’ve had three occasions in the goldfields where we’ve seen some really big, aggressive eagles and had no issues with them attacking the drone, they just left it alone,” he said.
“One mine in particular adopted it because of the amount of attacks they were getting from angry eagles.
“They had to change their system because of the sheer amount of drones they were losing, they lost about 12 to eagle attacks.
“But what they reported back was a massive increase in flight capabilities and far superior data accuracy and resolution to the system they were using previously.”
The future of drones and UAV
Drone technology is relatively new to the market, and constant innovation is seeing the price and size of high-powered cameras shrink, while the image resolution and quality constantly improves.
This means that the payloads equipped to drones and UAVs is becoming more diverse and advanced with every year.
Mr Carleton said that an area he is particularly excited about is the advances in 3D LiDAR capture capabilities in drones.
Lidar is an airborne laser scanner that builds a point cloud model, rather than collecting photos.
This provides raw data that is simplified and ultra-accurate.
The weight reduction and price drop in lidar tech means that much smaller drone systems will soon be able to carry these payloads, where previously a much larger unit would be required.
The WingtraOne is just one of the many offerings from CR Kennedy, and Mr Carleton said that he and his team would highly advise talking to someone about the nature of the work before purchasing a drone system.
“We encourage people to contact us and to let us know what their application is, so that we can best guide them to the right solution for the job,” he said.