Mining Contract: Expanding the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in GPS-Denied Environments

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Contract # 75D30118C02634
Start Date 9/1/2018
End Date 12/31/2019
Research Concept

This technology could be useful to miners looking to inspect mines after a ground fall event, to search for trapped miners, or in other instances where it's not safe to send people into a mine.

Contract Status & Impact

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

The rise of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology has given mines—and particularly surface mines—a new tool with which to inspect their operations from a safe distance. Underground mines, however, do not enjoy the same clear sight lines and extended range that's possible when operating UAVs, (commonly called drones), at surface mines. Unlike surface mines that benefit from having clear access to global positioning systems (GPS), underground mines are limited by their inability to access GPS.

Currently, if miners want to use (UAVs) to inspect trouble areas of an underground mine, they must remain within radio range (generally line-of-sight) for remote controls, typically no more than 2,000 feet. This range restriction means UAVs can't be as helpful as the technology could allow.

However, with this contract, that could change. The contractor, RESPEC, is familiar with challenges in the underground environment and, in partnership with another company in the UAV field (AutoModality), will develop a fully autonomous, UAV technology that will be able to travel a round-trip distance of at least 5,000 feet without the aid of a human pilot. The resulting device is intended to perform thermal imaging scans, detect methane levels, operate in smoke-filled environments, and learn about its environment and surroundings with help from a sophisticated internal algorithm.

Page last reviewed: 4/5/2022 Page last updated: 8/29/2019