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GPS in Mining 

Authors: Jack Caldwell


This review describes the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) in Mining including Mine and Ore Body Exploration, Development, Production, Closure, Reclamation, and Mine Title Application in British Columbia. The review also examines and evaluates web sites that specialize in GPS Technology, Mine Application of GPS, GPS Equipment Suppliers, and Consultants providing services in mining-related GPS Applications.


The 15-ft sail boat bobbed listlessly on the three-foot swells as I snoozed fitfully on deck and my daughter plotted our course from Catalina Island to Newport Beach. I was well drugged by some sea-sickness-avoidance pill but awake enough to be fascinated by the new toy my daughter sported: a GPS she called it. I had no idea how it worked but she claimed it told us where we were and, along with other gadgets that young nautical engineers lug around, which way we were going. My wife pointed out that it was a perfectly clear day and we could see the coast and where we were headed but she was promptly branded a techno-spoil-sport.

My next session with a GPS (Global Positioning System) followed devastating fires in San Diego. Umpteen of us got a GPS unit, a digital camera, and a companion from the County Office and we set out to identify areas that would be vulnerable to mudslides and flooding when rain hit the burnt landscape. We had fun, but the poor lad assigned to download the GPS data and the reams of digital photos until well past midnight was less fortunate in his assignment. I gained new respect for GPS and just enough knowledge to write this review.

GPS receivers are hand-held radio-receivers/computers which measure the time that the radio signal takes to travel from a GPS satellite until it arrives at the GPS antenna. Using the travel time multiplied by the speed of light provides a calculation of range to each satellite in view. From this and additional information on the satellites orbit and velocity, the internal GPS receiver software calculates its position through a process of triangulation. (from GeoForum)

GPS 24 Satellites circling the Earth. (Source: GeoForum)


The manufacturer, Trimble, hosts the best site if you seek comprehensive well-written background information on the theory and practice of GPS.

Eliris Inc provides consulting services and host a forum called GeoForum where there is a tutorial on GPS for those short on time and patience.

A succinct description of the basics of GPS is provided by Global Mapping Services.


These are some of the things that you can use GPS for at a mine:


Leica has always been synonymous with quality in my mind. Thus it is no surprise to find that the collection of case histories involving their GPS equipment is superb. Go to Mining and Exploration and enjoy the informative case histories and then backtrack into the site to examine the Leica equipment.

Another supplier, Novatel links you to a slew of case histories of GPS in action. I most enjoyed the one about Stanley, the robotic Volkswagen Touareg from Stanford that won the 2005 Grand Challenge mounted by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Stanley covered 131 miles of the Mojave Desert aided by Novatels Propak LB GPS receiver.


Halltech Corporation is the first to be mentioned primarily because they come in first with a well-written and informative site. Here are two samples of their direct, informative prose:

If you consider GPS technologydaunting, our Precision Ag Specialists will be pleased to step you through the decision making process. With over 10 years of experience "we'll guide you in the right direction!"

We are specialists in the field of Global Positioning Systems and devote a great deal of our attention to the GPS/GIS markets. We are authorized dealers for Ashtech/Thales, Brunton, CSI, Garmin, Magellan, Trimble and SATLOC. Also, as authorized dealers for provincial and federal topographic, aerial photography and digital mapping information, we are established leaders in providing total solutions for those working in the earth sciences.

Infomine has a complete listing of GPS equipment suppliers in their database. Here are some whose sites caught my eye and who provide information about GPS in addition to simple lists of equipment:

o Surveying in remote locations that have no gird system (for example, in the high Arctic for diamond exploration)High resolution resource exploration mapping

o High productivity ferrous ordnance (UXO) detection

o Ground portable magnetic and gradient surveying for environmental and engineering applications

o Base-station monitoring for observing diurnal magnetic activity and disturbances with integrated GPS time

Can-net base station locations. Data are delivered over the internet; for real-time applications the internet is linked to rover receivers using the cellular wireless technologies of 1X and GPRS. (Source: Can-Net)

In Canada, Cansel describes this addition to the normal GPS:

Can-Net is a new service managed by Cansel. It is comprised of a series of GPS reference stations across Canada, which provides GPS data for real-time and post-processing applications.

Sadly they give no more information, so I am left wondering how this all works-maybe see over.

Can-net base station locations. Data are delivered over the internet; and for real-time applications the internet is linked to rover receivers using the cellular wireless technologies of 1X and GPRS.

North Face Software Ltd. specializes in creating geological database management and plotting software for mineral exploration geologists. Bob Singh, a geologist and their president, showed me a robust tool to take into the field to use in gathering data, dropping along with the usual vicissitudes of field work, and bringing back to the office for fast data download. Contact him for your own demonstration.


Gemini Positioning Systems Ltd. and their electronics, geomatics, and software development team will help you develop a system tailored to your needs.

Global Mapping Services lists these consulting services to the mining industry:

  • Mineral claim boundaries
  • Geochemical and geophysical grid system
  • Road network
  • Diamond drill hole location
  • Sample site locations


Enviro-Tech Surveys Ltd. has survey teams that can undertake the following types of surveys:

  • Conventional optical 2D and 3D seismic surveys
  • GPS RTK surveys
  • GPS control surveys
  • Heli-portable surveys
  • Gravity surveys
  • GIS applications


Improving Safety of Off-Highway Trucks through GPS (Dagdelen and Nieto-Vega, Colorado School of Mines)

Fatalities among equipment operators in open pit mines can be reduced if GPS technology is incorporated in their machines. Currently, GPS is becoming a standard component in truck dispatch systems and field surveying. Especially in large open pit mines, pit and dump maps are being made in real time and can be transferred directly to the on-board computers of the trucks. With differential GPS equipment on board, one can quickly determine exact coordinates of a given truck with accuracy of less than a meter and evaluate whether a given truck is dangerously close to the dumping edge of a waste dump. Fatal accidents related to dumping tasks are occurring in significant numbers. The figure below was taken from this paper.

Applications for GPS on Shovels and Excavators (Seymour, C.) With high precision guidance systems for shovel and excavator buckets, the following benefits are also enumerated:

1. Accurate selective mining of mineralized horizons
2. Accurately finding the low wall batter line in coal stripping operations, thus reducing overdig, or lost coal
3. Accurate representation of hazardous areas, such as loaded blast areas or areas underlain by old underground workings
4. Creating more even benches, thus reducing truck cycle times and wear and tear on trucks and reducing dozer and grader time on benches

A case in point is the Collinsville Coal Mine, owned by Xstrata Coal and operated by Thiess Contractors in northern Queensland.

Following the introduction of a guidance system, three pits containing 1.5 million cubic meters of excavator-dug overburden showed an average overdig of 0.99% and underdig of 0.93%. Overburden which was moved in 12 pits dug prior to the installation of GPS guidance amounted to 3.2 million cubic meters and showed an average 3.86% of overdig and 1.82% of underdig. The reduction in overdig was sufficient to pay for the systems within a few months. Thiess subsequently installed guidance systems on the three other excavators at the site.

The Role of High Precision GPS Machine Guidance in Mining (Seymour and Williams, 2003) GPS technology can now locate the bucket of a shovel or the blade of a dozer to within 50 mm. Other positive outcomes include precise selective mining, even when the ore is visually indistinguishable from waste; tracking grade and tonnage of every ore parcel through the mine;

real-time productivity monitoring; detailed post-accident safety analysis; and tracking the movements of every piece of equipment.

A truck dispatch system. (Source: CMC Limited)

GPS-based Machine Guidance in the Mining Industry (Seymour, 2003)

The Jayant mine handles 30 million cubic meters of mine overburden (the waste product generated during mining operations) and around 10 million tones of coal in a year. It has a fleet of 15 excavators with a capacity ranging from eight to 14 cubic meters, 50 trucks of 85-tonne capacity and 30 trucks of 120-tonne capacity. The OITDS system covers the entire fleet of excavators and trucks. This system was conceptualized in 1999 and was implemented in September 2002. It is best expanded upon in this book .

Benefits of GPS Machine Guidance on Dozers (APS, March 2003) There are two major benefits for incorporating GPS guidance systems on mining machines:

a) Information generated can help the operator to locate the orebody vs. the position of the machine or the location of dumping sites.

b) Information can be sent back to the control centre in real time to assess what the machine has done, which increases productivity and quality on a real-time basis as well.

Specific GPS benefits for mine equipment include:

a) Dozers. Complete earth moving jobs can be done without the need for field survey pegging; sophisticated stripping design can be implemented that provides for the optimal efficient movement of material, with GPS guiding the operator as to where to move the material and how far to push it.

b) Drills. Information generated from drilling can be logged onto GPS systems on excavation equipment.

c) Hydraulic Excavators can be used to design grades on benches to determining the position of the excavator bucket. Also, the equipment can do selective mining especially where there is no distinguishing visual difference between ore and waste, especially in oxide gold operations.

Productivity gains will come from, among other things, elimination of mistakes and rework, elimination of field survey, high recovery and lower dilution of the valuable mineral, and added operators' confidence.

Land Gravity & GPS survey underway using a Scintrex CG-3 AUTOGRAV gravity meter and a geodetic quality GPS receiver. (Source: McPHAR Geosurveys Ltd. )

The Transformation of Yallourn's Open Cut Operations - (Peter Kerville) A case study on the application of GPS-equipped dozers at the Yallourn surface coal mining operation in Victoria, Australia is presented in a general-interest format article.


Grubstaker.com (no surprise there) is a delightful site I came across while preparing this review. If you have spare time, browse their gold and mineral claims store. They use the most current satellite technology available, combining GPS and computer mapping software, double checked using traditional methods of land measurement to stake out location mining claims that you may purchase from them. And while you're spending money, why not buy a bag of gold dust from the mines of Colorado - price $5.95.

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