Sensors and sensitivity: drone sensor payloads used at mine sites

by Measure Australia
Sensor payloads used frequently - and some used far less frequently - in mining applications

Sensors for mounting to drones have proliferated in the past 1-3 years, with a plethora of new and newly affordable devices available. Advances in miniaturisation and weight reduction accelerated the trend.  

RPAS and RPA for drone data collection and many sensor typesWhile most drone data capture at mine sites continues to be image and spatial lidar based, or potentially thermographic, there are many other sensors available. The type and specification of the sensor is limited by the drone’s size and thus payload capacity, and determined by the application.  

Below you’ll see our list of the next most popular sensor payloads for the mining sector, after lidar, imagery and thermo. Let us know the less common drone mounted sensors you’ve used at mine sites on social!  


Infrared sensor payload 

There’s a vast number of mine site uses for infrared (IR) sensors including electrical equipment analysis, pipeline inspection, leak detection, and building efficiency. Infrared sensors are relatively low cost and can either emit or receive IR signals – this is useful as virtually all materials with temperature greater than 0K emit infrared waves.  


Movie 'Predator' - Arnold Schwarzeneggar through the Predator's suit-sensors  with thermal imaging
Movie 'Predator' famously saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's character targetted with infrared thermal imaging (credit: The Walt Disney Company); thermal imaging uses mid or long wavelength IR

Infrared is convenient for mining environments as it is unaffected by ambient light, humidity or smoke – however its signals can be distorted by high temperatures, thick dust or fire.  

Applications include 
  • barrier detection 
  • equipment monitoring, particularly for overheating 
  • obscured equipment monitoring 
  • coal seam heat detection 
  • low light object or personnel detection  


Magnetic sensor payload 

Magnetometers detect and measure changes in magnetic fields. Multiple magnetometric readings can be used to triangulate deposits including beneath the surface of the earth.  

Applications include 
  • Mineral detection in exploration  
  Magnetic mapping in mineral exploration - anomalies shown with depth
Magnetic mapping in mineral exploration - anomalies shown with depth


Ultrasonic sensor payload 

Ultrasonic sensors are widely used in industrial applications, because they detect a wide array of materials, are unimpeded by difficult surfaces and able to work in a variety of challenging environments. Ultrasonic sensors emit high-frequency sound and detect feedback waves and operate well in smaller application areas.  

Applications include 
  • level indication 
  • distance detection 


Air quality sensor payload 

Air quality sensors take a variety of specific measurements for chemical composition, dust monitoring, gas detection and more. The readings are used to ensure air quality remains in healthy range for personnel and to monitor the safety of materials stored at the site (tailing dam, stockpiles, etc). Drones are a good method of air monitoring, to capture status at a range of elevations and distances.   

Elemental air composition sensors may operate on non-dispersive infrared, shining the IR beam through samples and interpreting IR absorption at specific wavelengths to identify gas concentration. Sensors can be calibrated to detect multiple gas types. Such sensors can detect high concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxideElectrochemical optical and ultrasound sensors may also be used, with type indicated by conditions, application type.  

Fugitive gas emission detection monitoring is a major area of focus for environmental and operative efficiency.   


Chemical symbol 




Carbon Monoxide 

Colourless, odorless gas 


Nitrogen Dioxide 

Highly reactive gas 



Pale blue gas 


Sulphur Dioxide 

Colourless, irritating smell gas 

PM2.5 and PM10 

Particulate Matter 

Inhalable particles 



Metal particles 


Applications include 
  • gas detection and composition 
  • fugitive gas emission  
  • particulate matter concentration  


Hyperspectral sensor payload 

Drone mounted hyperspectral sensors detect reflectance from the surface or reflected radiation. Hyperspectral analysis enables content analysis at face and in processing – however as a drone mounted sensor, its main use is in mineral mapping and quarry research.   

 Applications include 

  • mineral mapping 
  • airborne mineral mapping 
  • cement production 
  • environmental impact assessment  
  • exploration and geology 
  • quarry analysis  


RGB Sensor payload 

RGB (red-green-blue) sensors offer highly accurate colour detection, which can be used in mining applications to indicate content and depth evaluation. Some RGB sensors will, in addition to indicating colour content RGB value, include a transparency sensor as well, to indicate opacity.  

RGB sensors can be mounted on drones for use in surveying, mapping stockpile calculations, inspections and more – however in our experience, direct image capture with a camera will deliver a better result with lower power consumption.   

Application include  
  • colour detection in ore conveyance 
  • image capture 


Get started with drone data collection in mining by downloading our ebook, with advice to help you configure your ideal programme. 

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