Emesent, a drone autonomy spin-out from CSIRO’s Data61, the technology arm of Australia’s national science agency, has raised $3.5 million in venture capital to commercialise its first product, Hovermap. Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO Innovation Fund, led the funding round, along with long-time Bechtel mining executive Andy Greig.
Developed by former researchers from Data61, Emesent’s world-leading Hovermap technology automates the collection of valuable data in underground areas too dangerous or difficult for people to survey or navigate, such as stopes or ore passes in mines. Drones installed with Hovermap can be deployed in GPS-denied environments without a human controller to create 3D maps, and record gas readings, videos and images.
Hovermap draws on a decade of research by CSIRO’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems group into drone autonomy and 3D LiDAR-based simultaneous localisation and mapping (3D SLAM) techniques.
What problem is Emesent looking to solve?
“Hovermap enables the mining industry to safely inspect inaccessible areas of underground mines while improving the type and quality of data collected to unlock new insights,” Dr Stefan Hrabar, co-founder and CEO of Emesent said.
“This includes comparing the stope design to the actual post-blast shape to detect over-break and under-break, identification of geotechnical structures and accurate post-blast volume reconciliations.
“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.”
Before spinning out of CSIRO, Emesent established its leadership in this new category of automating industrial operations in the underground world. Last year, Hovermap enabled the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface of Western Australia.
What has Emesent achieved so far?
Emesent’s Hovermap system is already being used commercially for a variety of applications by early adopters in Australia, the US, Canada, China and Japan. A new program targeting the underground mining sector has now been rolled out, providing early access to Emesent’s mining-specific autonomy functions to selected participants.
“The investment will give us the opportunity to build out our team from seven to 25, and make Emesent a global leader in drone autonomy and automated underground data collection and analysis,” Dr Hrabar said.
Queensland-based Emesent has also received support from CSIRO’s ON Accelerator program. Both Main Sequence Ventures – CSIRO Innovation Fund and ON are supported by the Federal Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).
Larry Marshall, CSIRO Chief Executive, sees businesses like Emesent as a necessary step towards Australia realising its global digital innovation potential.
“Emesent is an example of a company who has hit the innovation sweet spot combining their deep domain experience in mining with digital expertise,” Dr Marshall said.
“This has been harnessed by the environment we have created at CSIRO where deep science combines with innovative ideas and agile minds to create game-changing technologies.
“CSIRO’s strength lies in our knowledge and experience of core markets like mining and agriculture and the channels we create, like our ON program, to deliver digital innovation which is transforming and creating new industries.”
Mike Zimmerman, Partner at Main Sequence Ventures, said Emesent is in a position to take on the global mining industry.
“With a world-class technical team and unparalleled real-world flight experience, Emesent is poised to revolutionise the way data is gathered and used for the underground world. Although there are a number of compelling use cases today, there are many more to be realised, and we fully expect to see this technology become a mainstay in mines around the world,” Mr Zimmerman said.
The real world applications of this technology extends beyond mining and can be integrated into industries such as underground rail and road transport, telecommunications, and disaster response.
Emesent is partnered with CSIRO’s Data61 to compete in the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new Subterranean Challenge, which aims to develop innovative technologies to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments. It is one of seven funded teams competing and the only team selected from outside the US.