Using drones to spot new mines from above

3D rendering of a white unmanned aerial vehicle flying in the sky with blue sky and clouds in the background.

Using drones to spot new mines from above

The University of Victoria’s Afzal Suleman is building a drone to prospect for valuable minerals from the sky, potentially sparing mining companies the significant cost and risk of finding new mines.
September 15, 2015

lt might look like something straight out of the distant future — a sci-fi jet with laser beams zapping it. But this unmanned jet could be spotted zooming through the skies over northern Canada in a few years, now that Afzal Suleman has the means to build it.

Suleman is the director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for  Aerospace Research and Canada Research Chair in Computational and Experimental Mechanics. With funding from the CFI, Suleman will build and equip a new kind of drone with a new kind of payload.

He has his sights set on developing drone technology that can be used by mining companies to prospect for new mines. Currently, he says, mining companies install big, bulky magnetometers onto jets whose pilots spend long hours zig-zagging the skies, waiting for these instruments to pick up differences in the Earth’s magnetic field that signal the underground presence of metals like iron.

Suleman says these flights are costly and risky to mining companies given the human factor. So he will spend the next five to ten years building an unmanned aerial vehicle with a much smaller magnetometer onboard, which spells significant savings in fuel and pilot fees and eliminates the risks associated with manned flight.

These geo-drones are just one branch of the overall aerospace project Suleman leads. His ultimate goal is to research, design and build lighter, safer airplanes that will make flying of the future more affordable.

This story was originally published in March 2014.