Unmanned Vehicles for Mine Safety Operations and Training

Project Info

Lead Researcher(s)

PI: 

Dr. Michael C. Hatfield (UAF-GI) 

CO-Is:

Dr. Rajive Ganguli (UAF-MIRL)

Dr. Catherine Cahill (UAF-Chemistry)

Dr. Orion Lawler (UAF-CS)

Eyel Saiet (UAF-GI) 

Project Dates

2015-2016

Funding

US Department of Labor (DOL)

Award Amount: 

$134,069.00

Project Summary

Purpose

This proposal outlines a novel approach for providing mine rescue support and training through the combined use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) teams. Primary focus for this effort is the development of capabilities enabling effective mine rescue operations by reducing human exposure to harmful and dangerous environments. The secondary focus of this proposal is on integrating this capability into training scenarios as it is proven out and approved by MSHA. Application of this technology and resulting rescue/training methodology is applicable to underground gold and hard rock mining operations. Initial operations are targeted locally at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) partner, the Sumitomo Pogo Mine. While UAF and Pogo continue to explore possibilities of these UGV/UAS assets, no federal funds have been received to date for the effort.

Background

Mining fatalities have been on a decreasing trend1 since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act2,3) came into effect in 1977. However, during the last decade a total of 649 miners lost their lives in work related fatal accidents (MSHA Mining Fatalities4, 2002-2013) with 7 mining fatalities recorded in Alaska. The majority of the accidents and fatalities involved personnel and miners with less than 5 years of experience on the particular job5. Emerging technology gains in the area of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) offers unprecedented capability in responding to emergency situations, the protection of valuable resources, and in safely maximizing production time in mining operations. The integration of UAS and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) into mining operations provides several key benefits. UAS/UGVs provide valuable support in emergency response situations, providing a critical first-look capability which can inform incident commanders on the best and safest employment of human assets.

Approach

This proposal provides rationale for recommended capabilities, outlines major functions to be accomplished, and a notional set of near/mid/far milestones to achieve these. Objectives outlined in Near-Term Tasks are currently under development by UAF & Pogo Mine, with others to follow as this effort proves worthy of consideration. Specific tasks to be accomplished as part of this proposal are outlined following the Long-Term capability objectives.

Overall Capabilities Required

This effort requires the demonstration of multiple capabilities in a challenging environment. Key to this capability is the reliable coordinated action between a UGV and UAS, including communication, tracking, command and control, data sharing, and recharging of the UAS. It also requires coordinated navigation between the UGV an UAS, in order to traverse and map indoor areas and confined spaces, such as mine tunnels. It will also provide tight integration between these vehicles and the ground control station (GCS), focusing on mission pre-flight activities, training tools, and debriefing tools.

Imagery.

The system will be capable of providing streaming video and high quality still pictures of the inside of the mine to aid in the analysis of emergency areas (cave-ins, debris/obstructions) for determination of best means for ingress, operations, and egress. The system will also provide IR video for location and identification of personnel, equipment, and other heat sources. When integrated with the Mine Rescue Team, this system will provide real-time intelligence and information to the Mine Rescue Team Captain during exploration operations prior to exposing the team to potentially dangerous conditions.

Air Samples.

The system will be capable of measuring underground ventilation direction and speed as well as providing air samples for determining gas and particulate concentrations found in designated areas of the mine.

Route Mapping.

The system will be capable of creating a 3D map of the tunnel structure and any obstacles encountered during travel.

Command & Control.

The system will be capable of being controlled by a portable Ground Control Station (GCS), consisting of a communication suite, ground processor, and display consoles. The GCS will be capable of providing man-on-the-loop control of the system via first person video (FPV), or autonomous control between designated locations or until the route is obstructed.

Communications.

The system will be capable of self-supported communications between the GCS, UAS, and UGV components. For expanded functionality, the system should also take advantage of any organic communications equipment resident in the mine structure and control center (eg, the leaky feeder system at Pogo Mine).

Interior Navigation.

The system will be capable of navigating the mine structure either via FPV manual control, or limited autonomous operation.

Obstacle Avoidance.

The system will be capable of detecting obstacles in its path (ground or air operation) and maneuvering around these as space permits. The system will be able to negotiate the tunnel system using a combination of operator input and autonomous sensing.

UAS.

The UAS provides the capability for untethered, high-vantage point operations in viewing extremely difficult terrain generally associated with disaster areas. As the UAS is limited in flight time, for extended operations, it must be paired with a UGV in order to extend its reach.

UGV.

The UGV provides a ruggedized, long endurance platform to traverse expansive and difficult terrain. The UGV can operate much more efficiently for long durations, as it may idle or stop operations as needed. Finally, the UGV provides a convenient mobile platform for recovery of the UAS, with capability to recharge the UAS batteries and recover or relay data for retransmission.

UAS/UGV Coordinated Operations.

This project requires reliable coordinated action between a UGV and UAS, including communication, tracking, command and control, data sharing, and recharging of the UAS. It also requires coordinated navigation between the UGV and UAS, in order to traverse and map indoor areas and confined spaces, such as mine tunnels. It will also provide tight integration between these vehicles and the ground control station (GCS), focusing on mission pre-flight activities, training tools, and debriefing tools.

  • Mineral Industry Research Laboratory (MIRL)
  • Duckering Building
  • 1760 Tanana Loop
  • PO Box 75 5800
  • Fairbanks, AK 99775-5800, USA