Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI), the technical arm of Coal India, has decided to buy drones to initially monitor operational planning of mines and gather data from the country's entire coal mining area of around 20,000 square kilometres.
The CMPDI board has approved the purchase of two drones and will opt for another five at a later date. It is expected that by the end of August this year, the two drones will be procured and put to use. One of them will be deployed in South-Eastern Coalfields area and the other will remain at CMPDI's command, to be used as per the needs from the other Coal India subsidiaries.
According to a CMPDI official, the requirements for these drones are 'somewhat different' from the usual ones which various commercial industries may have.
"We need an extremely high endurance time for these drones and they should have the capability to carry a good amount of payload," the official told Business Standard.
He said the drones will firstly be put to scan and monitor a vast area of coalfields due to which flying time will be much higher than other drones in use in the country. Besides, these drones will be fitted with heavy Light Detection and Ranging devices and optical & thermal sensors, which require the carrying capability of these drones to be unconventionally high.
While CMPDI will initially deploy these drones mainly for volumetric measurements including overburden removal, surveillance and aid-in-mine planning, their use will be gradually expanded. Importantly, the flying objects will also have the capability to monitor the fire in Jharia coalfields which has been raging underground for the past 103 years and help Coal India have a better perspective on this underground blaze.
"These drones can also be used for mine disaster management and prevention as we can have immediate data if an accident occurs. It will aid in planning rescue operations at a much faster pace," the executive told this newspaper.
Officials believe the entire coal-mining area in the country can be covered by these drones in the coming 1-1.5 years and seven such unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be needed.
While CMPDI will obtain these aerial objects from external sources, it will operationalise and maintain them in-house. Employees from this technical wing of Coal India are getting trained to operate them.
After procuring these drones, CMPDI will be applying to the Centre for the necessary licenses.
Last year, CMPDI first tested and used these UAVs to benchmark and better understand its capabilities in various technical applications like generation of contours, ortho-photos and computation of stock pile volumes.
Pilot projects were carried out in two mines in the Central Coalfields area and four mines under Northern Coalfields before this Coal India subsidiary narrowed down upon putting drones to use.