Robotized Inspection

“Robotized solutions enable an autonomous visual inspection and gas measurement in rough  underground mining environments in an efficient and a safer way.”

– Tobias Mathiak, K+S

Tobias Mathiak is a senior innovation manager with a strong focus on digital transformation in underground mining operation processes and related technologies. Outside of work he is passionate about hiking in the mountains while enjoying the amazing nature.

The innovative technologies will enable a more detailed visual inspection and measurement in underground mining environments, such as blasting faces, working areas and the shafts.

As an example, the robotized measurement inspections will be based on autonomous micro aerial robots (drones) that will have the capability to be deployed after the blasting event to perform visual inspections and monitoring of the blasting area, gas measurements and provide support in evaluating the overall safety and status of the working areas.

Why this matters

Robotized measurement solutions could remotely assist mining operators with relevant information to support and improve the mining operations.

As an example, nowadays, at the beginning of a shift, the supervisors or instructed persons drive through all active mining areas and to all mining faces where blasting has taken place.

These persons must carry suitable gas measuring devices for safety reasons and to control if the occupational exposure limits are not exceeded in an area a certain time after blasting. Besides gas measurements, the supervisors also evaluate the blasting results (roof, hanging wall and muck piles). In the future, these tasks and further inspections could be done by an autonomous robot, instead of mine personnel, which increases safety.

 

How we work

  • Close cooperation between partner organisations
  • Including relevant experts from all organisations to have expertise on one table
  • Bi-weekly meetings
  • Intensive discussion to find a common and suitable solution
  • Transparency
  • Strong focus and an iterative development approach
  • Field trials and an emphasis on realistic solutions (for autonomy)
  • Step-by-step testing of solutions in real mining environments

Our challenges

  • Promotion of the right level of trust, such that the technology is not over or under trusted.
  • Realization of a solution which enables a high degree of usability and flexibility for different use cases.
  • Achieving full autonomous and reliable inspections in complex environments without external infrastructure.
  • Integration of sensitive measurement devices in the robotized drone which acquire the data without deviations that otherwise could lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.
  • Reduction of the complexity of envisioned technical solutions, especially regarding its usability.

 

Our goals

  • Zero human based interaction to the machine, except general planning and mission overview.
  • Ability to autonomously inspect an area of at least 300 m in length.
  • Multisensorial based fused positioning information with an accuracy of less than 5-10 cm.
  • 100 % detection and avoidance of obstacles, humans, and other collision scenarios for autonomous operations in mining environments.
  • Data will be automatically provided and displayed for the operators to support their decision, e.g. if the blasting results were successful.
  • Data will be automatically provided and displayed for the operators to support their assessment of the environmental conditions at the mining face.
Example of a drift in the K+S test area at the Werra site where the robotized inspection innovations will be tested.
Members of LTU Robotics and AI Team and robots during field trials in the subterranean tunnel environment.
The developed LTU drone equipped with a full sensor and computation suite for a fully autonomous inspection mission.