The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Spot is fetching data at Gahcho Kué Mine

Boston Dynamics robot being tested at Canada diamond mine Metal Tech News - September 22, 2021

Many workers at the Gahcho Kué diamond mine in Canada's Northwest Territories would have never imagined that they would be working alongside a robot dog. Yet, the distinctive steady rhythm produced as the four-legged Boston Dynamics Spot robot makes its rounds is now becoming routine at the arctic operation.

"Most express amazement that walking robots in the workplace are now a reality, even though they may have envisioned it as a child," De Beers Group penned in a news release on a trial of Spot now underway at Gahcho Kué.

The world-renowned diamond company has leased two Spot units, the one at Gahcho Kué and a second to be delivered to a South African diamond mine, to see if these Boston Dynamics quadruped robots can take over tasks for which humans are not ideally suited.

"We have leased two Spot robots for a period of a year to determine whether the units can be of use with tasks deemed to be routine or those where the safety of personnel may be in question," said Sean Kennedy, principal engineer, asset strategy and reliability, De Beers Group. "This is in line with De Beers' technology and automation drive."

Mining companies are finding that Spot excels at dangerous duties and tedious tasks.

Glencore's Kidd Creek copper-zinc-silver mine in Ontario, one of the first mining operations to take Spot for a test drive, has the robot dog earning its hazard pay by inspecting underground development faces after a blast.

Not sharing the breathing concerns of its human counterparts, the Spot unit at Glencore has no problem with going in and inspecting a freshly blasted development face before the gasses are vented out, sending back images and data much earlier than a human could, or should.

While it is there, Spot can also check to ensure all the blast charges have detonated before crews arrive to dig deeper into Kidd Creek, already the deepest base metal mine on Earth.

This means that the human mining crews can more quickly and safely get to their jobs of digging out the blasted rock once the air has been vented.

"The story there is crystal clear – rather than risk a person to do a very simple task, send a robot instead," Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, told Metal Tech News earlier this year.

More information on Spot and its use at the Kidd Creek Mine can be read at Spot is the golden retriever of mine data in the April 28, 2021 edition of Metal Tech News.

While hazardous duties may also be assigned to the Spot robot at Gahcho Kué, its primary tasks will be much more mundane.

At the northern Canadian diamond mine, the trial will test whether Spot can play a role in the operation's process plant. As it makes its rounds, the robotic dog will monitor gauges and other readouts to confirm equipment is operating within parameters, inspect for spillage, check fire detection systems, and other routine tasks, all without direct control of an operator.

Since Spot is 100% analytical and has 0% chance of getting bored, these types of tasks are ideal for the robot.

Where a human may begin to relax his diligence after several hundred times of inspecting the same valve that has not been a cause of any problem in the five years since it was installed, the robot will apply the same observation protocols on the thousandth inspection as it was programmed to do on the first.

While De Beers is confident in Spot's observational abilities, the company wants to ensure that the four-legged robot can carry out these tasks in the extreme conditions offered up by an arctic mine.

During the trial, Spot will need to demonstrate its ability to climb and descend stairs; work autonomously through a pre-programmed inspection route, which can be wet and dusty; and even operate at temperatures that can plummet to 40 degrees below zero (Celsius and Fahrenheit).

During its independent sentries around the operation, Spot will capture still and thermal images; videos; acoustic recordings; and other data along a pre-programmed route that features QR codes installed where specific actions are required.

Spot has the ability to carry and power roughly 30 pounds of sensors, scanners, or even a robotic arm that allows it to adjust valves, push buttons, move obstacles, and other tasks. It can pack its payload around for roughly 90 minutes, dependent on the power draw of the accessories it is carrying. If Spot's sentry duties require longer durations, the robot can simply get recharged at self-docking stations set up at centralized locations or intervals along the path.

While seeing a Spot robot roaming the halls was something new for Gahcho Kué employees, the latest technologies are not.

During 2020, a new mobile maintenance scheduling and reporting system using mobile telephones was introduced at the northern diamond mine, and smartwatches were given out to a small number of employees earlier this year to determine whether these wearable electronics would provide an effective means of ensuring individuals maintain physical distance, an important measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the near future, the mine may also be the site to test a vertical drilling rig that will allow deeper mining of diamond-rich kimberlites. If so, this drill could become a key piece of Diamond FutureSmart mining tech to be used at the proposed mine at Chidliak, a diamond project site on Baffin Island, Nunavut.

For now, Gahcho Kué workers are getting accustomed to the distinctive rhythm made by Spot as it fetches data from around the northern Canada diamond mine.

Gahcho Kué mine is a joint venture between De Beers (51%) and Mountain Province Diamonds Inc. (49%).

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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