Five minutes with...

Daniel Wheeler, founder of security and risk management specialists DWOS Africa
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Ailbhe Goodbody

What are the challenges to mine-site security?

Global mining companies are operating in ever more geopolitically complex regions. Mining sites are becoming even more remote, and extreme climates, hostile terrain and the lack of local infrastructure all make site security more challenging.

Keeping track of employees, visitors and the general public can be difficult and presents not only a security threat but also a safety concern. Limiting physical access to assets or sensitive areas without decreasing efficiency is now imperative for the large mining companies.

How are these challenges being met?

Securing a mining site relies on the aspects of deterrents and detection. The sheer presence of security staff, surveillance cameras and patrol dogs is enough to put 99% of people off. The goal is to detect the 1% who see the possible reward outweighing the risk of getting caught.

At DWOS, we’ve been developing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology to respond to these challenges. Our drones can fly completely autonomously for up to 12 hours without having to land.

Talk us through the process.

OK, so the UAV is usually operated by a pilot and two sensor operators. When the UAV is launched, it will automatically follow a set flight plan using GPS co-ordinates. Once at the programmed altitude, the drone will take up a holding pattern to keep it within a specified airspace above the mining site. The on-board cameras will then continuously use sensors to scan the ground.

If an unidentified person is found, the UAV will report back to the ground control station. The sensor operators at the ground control station can then use the camera to monitor and identify the individual. If required, security staff on the ground can then be mobilised to intercept the person in question.

What are the advantages of using a UAV?

The great thing about drones is that they can fly high enough so that they can’t be seen or heard. They are an invisible eye in the sky that can watch over kilometres of ground – UAVs can monitor a huge area and are not restricted by terrain. Having fitted the drones with high-definition infrared cameras, we developed software that can identify people using heat signatures and other sensory cameras. Also, they are relatively cost-effective and add a completely 3-D capability to security.

Are there any other uses for the UAVs?

We also use our UAVs for convoy protection. The drone can fly above and in front of a convoy, which allows operators to check for ambushes or road blockages. These drones can also carry a small payload, which can be used to parachute drop vital supplies to staff working in remote areas that would take days to reach via road. We’ve used these drones to deliver vital medical supplies to staff working in mountainous regions when the roads were blocked and the terrain didn’t allow for a helicopter landing.

Is DWOS working on any other exciting technology for security in the mining industry?

Our development team is always exploring new technology. We’ve combined the use of drones with GPS trackers to give a complete bubble of security over mining sites. The GPS trackers allow control-room operators to monitor staff movements, identify individuals and communicate with them directly if they stray into a restricted area. This new system allows for greatly improved security and safety practices at the mining sites.

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