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Overview of Drone Magnetometers in the Geosciences and Military

Unmanned Airborne Vehicles (UAV’s) are pilot-less aircraft flown on military, police and now, commercial missions in a variety of applications. Over the last decade, UAV’s gained rapid acceptance and popularity due to their low cost, high-quality data, and ability to be equipped with many kinds of sensors — ranging from simple cameras to advanced geophysical equipment, such as GEM’s quantum magnetometers and gradiometers.

Today, GEM’s DRONEmag is the only quantum magnetometer developed specifically for drone magnetometer surveys. With high-resolution and low noise threshold (high sensitivity), GEM’s drone magnetometer blends a decade of research and field testing into a small, lightweight drone sensor with off-the-shelf and turnkey unmanned aerial systems available. Offering numerous advantages over other sensors, the DRONEmag™ is powered by the unique Potassium technology of optically pumped magnetometers and gradiometers   – developed and delivered exclusively by GEM Systems.

Development of the MONARCH fixed wing Gradiometer was
based on GEM’s re-designed, Ultra Light Weight Potassium technology sensors. Now, GEM’s
DRONEmag™ sensors have become standard across all UAV magnetometer platforms.

Applications of Drone Magnetometer Surveys

Driven initially by military work, UAV platforms (helicopter, multi-copter, and fixed wing) have evolved significantly in the last decade. With improvements in efficiency, range, size, and payload, drone magnetometer platforms have proven effective for a variety of applications. The drone mounted  magnetometer trend is growing quickly, as more and more commercial applications are uncovered.

Applications for UAVs include the geosciences and military, including geophysics drones. DRONEmag™ has proven effective for mapping mineral deposits, pipelines and other buried infrastructure; surveying hydro lines for breaks; detecting small buried arms in forensic investigations; and other high-resolution, high-sensitivity UAV magnetometer survey work, such as unexploded ordnance detection (UXO), engineering and environmental projects.

UAV technology is no longer in the future – the applications are here today and growing. As you move forward in your journey with UAV magnetometer technology,  GEM Systems welcomes you to discover the many advantages that our DRONEmag™ Potassium magnetometer solutions have to offer.

How does UAV compare to ground and airborne surveys?

The potential for drone magnetometer surveys to replace ground and airborne magnetometer surveys is apparent and is proving to be transformational – replacing ground surveys as well as challenging airborne surveys, in terms of both data quality and cost. And as UAV magnetic surveys become even more efficient, cost effective, and safer than other methods, the use of UAV mounted magnetometers will grow significantly.

DRONEmag™ Magnetometer Surveys vs Ground Surveys

In one day, a technical operator can walk roughly 10-15 line kilometers of a ground magnetometer survey. 100 line kilometres is equivalent to 10 days of operator time and expenses whereas a UAV magnetometer system can collect high quality data from the same distance in a single day.

Helicopter unmanned aerial system with
GEM’s AirBird towed UAV magnetometer
flying an autonomous survey
in Niagara, Canada.

Considering the costs to support a human operator for 10 days, DRONEmag™-based magnetic surveys are proving to be more cost effective than ground magnetometer surveys. A drone magnetometer survey also mitigates the safety concern that is present with ground operators and line cutters.

In comparing the quality of data between ground and UAV magnetometer surveys, there are several factors. Drone magnetometer surveys are at elevation in comparison with ground surveys — with the result that the magnetic signal is slightly reduced.

However, the density of the data collected from a drone magnetometer survey, both along-line and between tightly spaced lines, results in a detailed DRONEmag™ image that truly changes the impact of magnetometer data. Drone magnetometer surveys also minimize noise from boulders and operator movement which are encountered in ground surveys.

Drone Magnetometer Surveys vs Airborne Surveys

Mineral exploration is a natural fit for a UAV magnetometer survey for a number of reasons. Manned flights in remote areas are dangerous and are expensive to support (including mechanics, fuel dumps, food and lodgings and more). Drone magnetometers are easier to launch, mobilize, set up and re-energize. Moreover, UAVs can fly in most weather and at night – giving significant productivity gains over conventional airborne surveys.

On the other hand, aircraft are traditionally employed for the execution of airborne magnetometer surveys in the range of 1000 line kilometers to 50,000 line kilometers. Due to safety restrictions, aircraft fly at a minimum height of 300 feet. In comparison, UAV magnetometer surveys are flown at 100 feet so that the signal is much stronger and higher quality. In addition, use of GEM’s high-sensitivity magnetometer, DRONEmag™, enables even small signals just above the noise threshold to be detected.

With 10m line spacing and high sensitivity, DRONEmag™ creates a level of information not yet seen in the exploration world. This kind of detail leads directly to new understanding and discoveries.


Key Component of an Effective UAV Magnetometer System

GEM’s ultra-light weight Potassium Magnetometer technology is proven on Fixed Wing, Helicopter, and Multicopter systems and has demonstrated the best heading error in the industry.

Part of its success is due to its components which are specially designed for high resolution and noise-free data. Responses of a dipolar target fall off as the inverse cube of distance – meaning that the farther the sensor is from the source, the smaller the signal. This can be compensated for by using an ultra-sensitive magnetometer such as GEM’s unique Potassium optically pumped magnetometer.

Development of the Monarch UAV gradiometer plane, as well as research, led to advances in our Potassium Technology that ultimately made our high sensitivity sensor smaller and lighter. And as a result, the GEM DRONEmag™ (GSMP-35U/25U Potassium UAV magnetometer) has become the focal point of our clients in UAV magnetometer surveying.

A Hexacopter UAV platform with suspended DRONEmag™ from GEM Systems for High Resolution surveying at 15 m line spacing; more than 3 times denser than conventional airborne surveys. DRONEmag™’s high sensitivity is ideal for aerial platforms due to its
ability to resolve even subtle signals at standard 100-foot drone magnetometer flying heights.
Photo courtesy of MWH Geo-Surveys Ltd.

Request a Callback

There are many options to consider in developing your own magnetometer platform. At GEM, we are pleased to discuss your requirements for drone magnetometers, gradiometers and platforms with a Callback. Please click here and we’ll get back to you soon.

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