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How a Queensland drone company saved its clients $20 million in 10 minutes

Business

In little more than 10 minutes a Brisbane tech company that was spun out of the CSIRO robotics division was able to save one of its customers about $20 million.

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Emesent co-founder Stefan Hrabar said the real value of the autonomous drone technology his company has sold into about 20 countries “is when things start to go wrong”.

About half of its sales so far have been in the mining sector where the Hovermap technology provides 3D mapping of the stopes and other features and has the ability to go beyond line-of-sight and communication.

“We are already seeing that from some of our customers. If there is an incident and they have to halt production it’s costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars and hour so the sooner they can get in, assess the area and regain production the better.

“In a few cases, the five minutes of flying has allowed them to make multi-million dollar decisions.

“There was one case where the decision was around $20 million and with 10 minutes of data capture they saw what they needed to make a decision.”

Emesent, a drone autonomy company based at Pullenvale in Brisbane’s west, is part of the automated-robotic wave that’s washing through the mining sector that includes the $100 million BHP is investing in autonomous trucks

But it is also part of a strong mining services sector in Brisbane, a city that Hrabar said had a lot of benefits for the company, particularly its access to mining and mining software companies.

The Hovermap technology also has applications in search and rescue and construction as well as in the oil and gas sector and even the inspection of cell towers.

Hrabar, said in the future underground mines won’t have people.

“There will be autonomous vehicles driving around and these drones will be stationed permanently underground and deployed as needed,” he said

“They will be controlled from the surface. Someone will press a button and they will all go off capture data or fly a stope everyday.”

Emesent has just realised a breakthrough in fully autonomous flight systems with industrial drones that provide autonomous beyond line of sight, GPS-denied flight.

Hrabar spent 13 years in CSIRO before commercialising the technology that still uses an underlying algorithm from the science organisation under licence.

He and co-founder Farid Kendoul launched Emesent less than two years ago. It’s grown from five staff to about 40 and is still hiring after capturing $3.5 million in venture capital funding, led by Main Sequence Ventures.

“This is a huge step forward for drone autonomy and a massive benefit to industries like mining, civil construction, and emergency response. With the intelligence to navigate environments without a prior map, customers can use the system to carry out complex missions, secure the safety of personnel, and drive greater efficiency in their operations.”

The drones send out about 300,000 laser pulses a second to figure out where it is and where it is moving but it can also use it to build an accurate map on the environment that it’s in.

“We are a good example of how things can be commercialised at CSIRO,” he said.

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