Imagine a fire or an event of seismic activity in a mine. Seismic activity might cause rock falls, deformations of tunnels, or have an impact on media installations, for example, there will be no communication networks or important infrastructure available, there might be smoke, and an overall dangerous area for human based operations.
– These are typical cases where robots can replace humans and operate in extremely harsh and dangerous environments in order to perform missions, fully assisting remote operators, while ensuring the overall safety, says George Nikolakopoulos.
– Drones can also perform exploration and rescue missions in environments where humans are not allowed and classical mining automation machines are not able to cope. In such situations, robots need advanced AI to increase their resilience and robustness, to provide multi-dimensional perception of the surrounding environment and situation awareness for successfully completing their mission in a full autonomous approach.
Data creates opportunities
In a new EU Horizon 2020 project, Illumineation, this process of re-thinking traditional mining is addressed. The need for more production pushes the mining industry’s exploration and extraction activities in greater depths. Mining in greater depths are more challenging and the operating conditions are more dangerous, the ground is more unstable and hostile for human based operations.
– The fundamental techniques for mining has not changed much over time. The processes are fundamentally the same, for example mining methods, drill and blast, and mining equipment. The level of automation for the entire process is low, partly depending on the complex processes that require long experienced operator to fully control, says Håkan Schunnesson, Professor of Mining and Rock Engineering.
– However, a thing that significantly has increased over the last decades is the amount of data that now is available from the mining processes and from equipment. For automation to work in many underground situations the operator’s intelligence and senses need to be replaced. The availability of data but also intelligent analysis and presentations system is a key factor for success.
Safer with drones
The research group in Robotics and AI will focus on new concepts of autonomy for aerial inspection of mining environments as well as having drones as extensions to mining machines and the general mining infrastructure.
– The future of mining will put human safety first, at the same time as mining operations will be more efficient with reduced downtimes, smaller impact on the environment and in general more sustainable, says George Nikolakopoulos.
The research group in Mining and Rock Engineering will work with monitoring of mining equipment, mostly drills, and develop systems for rock mass characterization.
– Fundamental information from the mine and its surroundings will improve the understanding of the mining processes to improve productivity, energy conservation and to remove obstacles for automation, for example fragmentation, says Håkan Schunnesson.