The current techniques used for monitoring the blasting process in open pit mines are manual, intermittent and inefficient and can expose technical manpower to hazardous conditions. This study presents the application of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems for monitoring and improving the blasting process in open pit mines. Field experiments were conducted in different open pit mines to assess rock fragmentation, blast-induced damage on final pit walls, blast dynamics and the accuracy of blastholes including production and pre-split holes. The UAV-based monitoring was done in three different stages, including pre-blasting, blasting and post-blasting. In the pre-blasting stage, pit walls were mapped to collect structural data to predict in situ block size distribution and to develop as-built pit wall digital elevation models (DEM) to assess blast-induced damage. This was followed by mapping the production blasthole patterns implemented in the mine to investigate drillhole alignment. To monitor the blasting process, a high-speed camera was mounted on the UAV to investigate blast initiation, sequencing, misfired holes and stemming ejection. In the post-blast stage, the blasted rock pile (muck pile) was monitored to estimate fragmentation and assess muck pile configuration, heave and throw. The collected aerial data provide detailed information and high spatial and temporal resolution on the quality of the blasting process and significant opportunities for process improvement. The current challenges with regards to the application of UAVs for blasting process monitoring are discussed, and recommendations for obtaining the most value out of an UAV application are provided.
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