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Protecting perimeters and open spaces

In many of the South American and African mines, there has been a marked increase in both illegal miners and armed gangs attacking the mining sector. There are multiple cases where illegal miners have taken control or partial control of the mine in order to steal. Investigation found that these incidents were as a result of breached perimeters.

The main concern for the mines is the area they need to cover and the cost associated with doing so. Traditional thermal and IP cameras are just too expensive to place along the perimeter to detect a would-be intruder. In addition, many of the areas are wide-open spaces spanning many kilometres in length.

Optical fibre first appeared in the mid-1960s as a revolutionary means of fast and low-loss communication via a drawing glass made of silica with a dimension similar to a human hair. Distributed Fibre Optic Sensors (DFOS) appeared around the same time and are a clever way of repurposing regular optical fibres to sense environmental phenomena such as strain, thermal, or acoustic events occurring near the fibre. Because of its ability to completely and continuously cover the area surrounding the fibre, this technology is appealing to the sensing industry as an alternative to multiple, single point, spaced out, and more expensive sensors.

Distributed Acoustic Sensors (DAS) are a type of DFOS that analyse the vibration and acoustic environment surrounding the fibre. One can imagine the application potential for such a device, spanning a wide range of fields. One of such applications is pipeline monitoring, in which the fibre is buried near the oil or gas pipe in order to detect and classify intrusions in the form of human or vehicle trespassing and/or digging. Another widespread application is telecommunication line monitoring, in which the goal is to detect digging attempts that could cause damage to the cable.

DAS technology is capable of detecting events with high precision and sends notifications to interested parties in a matter of seconds. However, in many cases, the primary purpose is not only to identify the occurrence at the appropriate location and time, but also to intervene before it causes damage to the cable or pipe. This is where the technology’s limitation lies.

Pipelines, for example, might span hundreds of kilometres in remote and inhospitable locations with few control points. In most circumstances, human intervention will arrive too late, and the damage will already have occurred.

Adding drones to the equation

Because road or foot-based solutions could take hours to reach the place of the breach, air-based interventions are the best option. Because of their numerous vantage points, drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – are a natural choice. They can fly in a direct and optimal route to the breach area, analyse the situation through the visual intake, and communicate with the intervening team the number of trespassers and their level of firepower, so avoiding potential human loss.

Another significant advantage is drones fitted with sirens, which could scare off intruders, curtailing the digging or trespassing operation before any damage to the cable or pipe occurs.

Although the points mentioned above make for a very appealing integrated solution, there are a few factors to consider in order to successfully implement the UAV on-site; we must find a good ratio of maximum response time before the damage is done, as well as where to base the drone’s launch pads for optimal intervention. Next, we must consider how long it takes to launch the UAV, its flying speed, and its range. For an efficient set-up and operation, all of these elements must be optimally computed.

SAMM Technologies is currently in the early development stages of a pairing of DAS and UAV technologies for fast intervention, in the context of a telecommunication line monitoring application. XtraVision is a global distributor of SAMM FOTAS fibre intrusion detection technology in the South African, African and South American regions.

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