You realize that significant benefits would be realized by transitioning mine site mapping/volumetrics to drones (more properly, small Unmanned Aerial Systems, sUAS). You have decided, at least for the immediate future, to use an outside service provider rather than internalize the process.
Since you have, at least for the present, decided to outsource drone-collected mapping and volumetrics, the task now is to select a qualified company to perform these services. A checklist for evaluating a potential service provide should include these questions:
- Is the vendor authorized to fly by the appropriate regulatory body (e.g. in the USA, the Federal Aviation Administration requires a Section 333 exemption permitting commercial drone flights)?
- Does the vendor have sUAS aircraft liability insurance?
- Are the rights to the collected data clearly spelled out?
- Do you feel confident that the vendor’s methodology for rigorous network/local accuracy (surveying accuracy) will meet your requirements? For example, a 4 inch vertical error in a borrow pit computation amounts to about 538 cubic yards of volumetric error per acre!
- For projects that require Network Accuracy (anytime you intend to extract information such as elevation models, contours or are performing time series analysis, you will need Network Accuracy), can your service provider tie their results to a reference network that can be independently verified?
- Does the vendor have a plan for incorporating surveyed quality assurance check points that will be captured in the aerial flight?
- Does the vendor understand how to incorporate design information such as “bottom” lines, reclaim tunnel models, complex a priori stockpile toes and so forth into the modeling process?
- Does the vendor have a reasonable approach to allowing you to collaborate on resolving project boundaries, stockpile identification, stockpile toe definitions, occluded areas and so forth?
- Have proposed ground personnel worked on mine sites and have safety awareness? For example, for USA mine site operations, do they have basic MSHA Part 46 training?
- Can the vendor provide references?
You should engage in a pilot project with your candidate vendor. This will limit your initial investment and give you an opportunity to fully vet the proposed provider before committing to a long term relationship. You will want to have independent test data to validate the vendor’s solution.
An immediate red flag is a potential vendor who will not explain their methods in detail, hiding behind a veil of “well, that is our proprietary method that sets us apart from our competitors.” The plain English translation of this is “I have no clue!”