Scientists around the world, including in Canada, are currently developing robots that can anticipate and prevent mining accidents, such as the dramatic entrapment of 33 Chilean miners in the Atacama Desert in 2010.
While all 33 miners were eventually rescued, after spending some 70 days trapped 700 metres underground following a mine collapse, most trapped miners are not as fortunate, as evidenced by the recent deaths of two diamond miners at the Ghagoo underground mine project in Botswana and two coal miners in northern Colombia.
According to a recent story in nuevamineria.com, researchers at Australia’s University of Sidney’s Centre for Field Robotics are developing a new generation of robots that will make mining in Latin America safer.
The work, directed by Argentine researcher Eduardo Nebot, is focusing on creating robots that can be sent to underground zones prone to collapses or where visibility is limited or non-existent. These are robots that can “learn and understand their surroundings… and make decisions on their own,” according to another centre researcher, Stefan Williams, quoted in nuevamineria.com.
Nebot said one of the field robotics centre’s goals is to improve mining safety in Latin America and as such, it has several projects in Chile and Argentina.
Meanwhile, researches at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems are also developing robots that can be sent to mining areas that are dangerous and hard to navigate.
"Places where there is very little light, lots of obstacles where ground robots can't reach them, and where traditional flying robots that avoid obstacles but need very large spaces would not be able to navigate," said Adam Klaptocz, one of EPFL’s researchers.
Additionally, a Canadian researcher in Sudbury recently tested a $3 million mining robot he helped design and build, at a copper mining company in Chile. As published by CBC News, the robot can accurately determine dimensions of excavations underground and has the potential to improve the quality of mining work. With the robot's help, workers can see exact locations of drill holes and tunnels underground without physically travelling there, said Greg Baiden, the CEO of Penguin Automated Systems, the robot’s creator.
Baiden is also quoted as saying that the robot was designed with recent mining disasters in mind, and he called his machine "a reconnaissance robot" that can go in and give and survey "what the falls of ground look like."
“We have the ability to put ventilation sensors on it, so we can tell the condition of the air," he said. "And it'll cover such difficult terrain that it can go into situations where maybe even people can't go, and it's got the ability to carry a load."
With the contribution of Suzanne Soto, owner of Si! Corporate Communications, a Greater Toronto Area company providing public relations services in both English and Spanish.