Mining Contract: Visual-Inertial Drone Navigation for Underground Mine Environments

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Contract # 75D30118C02445
Start Date 8/22/2018
End Date 8/31/2019
Research Concept

This technology will provide autonomous navigation solutions for drones in underground mine environments.

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is complete. To receive a copy of the final report, send a request to

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology stands to dramatically benefit the mining industry with the right adjustments. Currently, surface miners can operate UAVs—or drones—with little difficulty, as they can take advantage of global positioning systems (GPS) and, often, line-of-sight controls. GPS signals are not available in underground mines and underground mine layouts limits the range of line-of sight operation. Many underground mine operators have expressed interest in using them to inspect mines, check areas after a ground fall or other mining event, or go to parts of a mine where it may be unsafe for people to travel.

The contractor, SRI International, will develop and evaluate autonomous navigation solutions for drones operating in GPS-denied mining environments. SRI’s GPS-denied navigation system for drones uses cameras and inertial measurement units as core sensors and utilizes a cutting-edge visual-inertial simultaneous localization and mapping method to provide precise navigation solutions.

This contract tasks SRI to develop and evaluate autonomous navigation solutions for drones operating in GPS-denied mining environments, where there is total darkness. Additionally, the contractor will examine multiple ways to integrate information from available mine maps in order to improve the drone's navigation performance. The drone must be able to plan a route, autonomously navigate wide areas and be able to return to home base station.

Page last reviewed: February 6, 2020
Page last updated: February 6, 2020