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Earth AI to start autonomous rig in April before further exploration expansion

Earth AI Pty Ltd., a company harnessing artificial intelligence and big data in the search for mineral resources in Australia, will apply for gold and base metals permits in New South Wales and Western Australia in September after inaugurating its own automated rig in April targeting copper, zinc and vanadium in the Northern Territory.

Earth AI uses Australia-wide exploration datasets from satellites, gravity, magnetic and radiometry surveys, and soil and rock geochemistry to train a neural network and predict where high value mineral prospects will be.

CEO and Founder Roman Teslyuk said the sheer scale of the datasets and the technology the company is using to search for minerals in Australia makes it an industry first. One source being mined by the company is multispectral remote sensing data from ASTER, or Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, which is an imaging instrument on board Terra, the flagship satellite of NASA's Earth Observing System launched in December 1999.

From all this, Earth AI says it collected and processed the world's largest mineral artificial intelligence training dataset, containing more than 400 million data points.

Leveraging Amazon Web Services' computing cloud to process its large datasets in just hours, Earth AI argues in its investment case that its methodology saw it spend just A$200,000 to generate 18 prospects in the Northern Territory.

This contrasts to the A$666.3 million which some 600 ASX-listed miners spent on exploration in fiscal 2018 to generate 81 prospects, according to Earth AI's analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

In founding the company back in 2016, Teslyuk told S&P Global Market Intelligence that he recognized a "big problem with geologists not fully utilizing geological big data" at the university during his PhD, but withdrew in frustration when he did not get support to delve deeper into that angle.

The project that has risen to become Earth AI's flagship is Elkedra which is contained within five leases — two of which are granted — over 2,250 square kilometers, located 350 kilometers from the regional center of Alice Springs.

Teslyuk said while there are companies that claim they are using artificial intelligence in mining, Earth AI is unique in that it has field tested its own technology and invested in its own discoveries.

That includes designing and building its own automated drilling rig, which is expected to start work in April on Elkedra, which is the most important prospect and has outcropping high grade vanadium grading 0.5% vanadium pentoxide. It also has iron oxide copper-gold, porphyry and skarn prospects with zinc, copper, iron, manganese and cobalt.

The eight-week autonomous drilling campaign in April is expected to cost A$140,000, after which Earth AI hopes to build a resource and attract a farm-in partner.

Teslyuk also confirmed Earth AI will apply for gold and base metal exploration licenses on similarly unexplored ground in in Western Australia and New South Wales in September, having generated dozens of targets there from its own analysis.

Venture capital appeal

Venture capital firms AirTree Ventures Pty Ltd. and Blackbird Ventures seeded Earth AI as their first foray into mining. Airtree partner John Henderson said his firm is focused on backing businesses which have the potential to be "scalable category leaders," and its investments have so far clustered around machine learning, energy, fin tech and enterprise software.

This has historically led Airtree to a heavy focus on software-enabled businesses, which will continue. However, Henderson added that Airtree is open to learning about industry changing innovation and will not shy away from complex technology such as in mining.

"There are real opportunities for technology to improve mining," he told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "This ranges from data-driven exploration right through to autonomous machines doing the actual mining itself such as trucks and drill rigs.

Blackbird co-founder Niki Scevak said Earth AI could become "very valuable" given its potential to "dramatically reinvent" the process of mineral exploration, regardless of commodity price fluctuations.

He said Blackbird was also attracted by Earth AI's focus on battery minerals used for renewable energy technology and electric vehicles that will "lead to a sustainable energy future … not pollution and coal."