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Clearpath pioneers rugged USV for bathymetric surveying

New robotic system provides safer, faster, more cost-effective monitoring of tailings ponds

Supported by $40,000 in co-funding from LOOKNorth's Technology Validation Program, Clearpath Robotics of Kitchener, Ontario has completed a six-month project to demonstrate its Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) for remote autonomous bathymetric surveys of shallow tailings ponds. This technology enables environmental teams with mining or oilsands projects to safely collect high-quality bathymetric data for calculating storage volume curves and remaining capacity of these facilities. This data also provides internal forecasts for facility expansions, as well as external reporting on tailings and water management plans to regulatory agencies.

Current methods of monitoring and measuring the available capacity in tailings ponds use conventional bathymetric survey techniques from a barge or other suitable craft crewed with technicians conducting “over the side” measurements, whether with survey rods or shallow water sonars. Since tailings ponds contain potentially toxic materials left over after ore separation, these methods expose people to physical and chemical risks. USVs provide a safer, more cost-effective platform for bathymetric surveying in these safety-sensitive environments.


Clearpath’s Kingfisher USV, a compact battery-powered catamaran less than a cubic metre in size, was designed to be rugged, reliable and easy to operate.  One recent project was expected to take a three-person survey crew over 300 person-hours, but instead was successfully completed by the Kingfisher and one technician in only 12 hours at approximately one-third of the cost. The Kingfisher’s ability to collect high-quality data quickly, safely and cost-effectively enables mining companies to achieve their high environmental monitoring standards without increasing costs or risks to their employees.

Project Lead Blyth Gill is proud of the Kingfisher’s success: “Surveyors really appreciate this new technology because the old way to collect bathymetric data was unpleasant and unsafe.  Environmental managers, also, are very happy with its data quality and quick return on investment. It’s been very satisfying to provide such a win-win-win solution for the industry.”

The existing survey-grade sonar/GPS configuration has worked so well that new sensors are now being integrated into the Kingfisher’s payload to meet industry’s other important remote sensing needs.

All images courtesy of Clearpath Robotics