Charting new mining robotics territory
Sandvik, Exyn unveil autonomous mapping concept vehicle Metal Tech News – September 29, 2021
Last updated 10/5/2021 at 2:44pm
Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, a Swedish company at the vanguard of mining automation and digital mining solutions, and Exyn Technologies Inc., an award-winning pioneer of aerial drones capable of navigating complex environments without the need for a global positioning system or direct human guidance, are merging their already avant-garde autonomous technologies into a concept vehicle that is expected to advance robotics into uncharted territory.
"This latest concept is a glimpse at a future where mine workers no longer need to go underground to maintain mining operations," Raffi Jabrayan, vice president of commercial sales and business development at Exyn Technologies told Metal Tech News.
With an Exyn drone piggybacked on a wheeled Sandvik autonomous vehicle, this underground mine mapping and inspection concept vehicle is the latest innovation to come out of a partnership forged between the two companies in 2020.
"With a robust autonomous robotic collaboration, dangerous underground cavities can be mapped safely and efficiently while high fidelity data sets can be immediately uploaded to production mining software," said Jabrayan.
This mining robotics collaboration would not be possible without the ability to merge the advanced automation and other software each of these companies brings to the partnership.
Equipped with powerful ExynAI software capable of meshing multiple data streams from a payload of sensors, ExynAero drones are able to self-navigate into underground environs beyond the reach of GPS – returning with maps of areas that are difficult, hazardous, and time-consuming to investigate with conventional techniques.
It did not take the partners long to be able to integrate data processed with the 3D mapping technology aboard ExynAero into Sandvik's OptiMine Mine Visualizer, a key to Sandvik autonomous mining equipment being able to utilize the new data generated by Exyn drones for navigation and other purposes.
Providing a powerful 3D model of underground mines, Visualizer integrates with Sandvik's other OptiMine management tools for optimizing underground hard rock mining production and processes.
Earlier this year, Exyn and Sandvik tested their integrated drone mapping and visualization solutions at Rupert Resources Ltd.'s Pahtavaara gold mine in northern Finland.
A past-producing underground mine, Pahtavaara has 35 kilometers (22 miles) of underground mine workings from previous operations.
Rupert has outlined 474,000 ounces of gold in unmined extensions of the Pahtavaara deposit and recently identified a previously unknown trend of mineralization that could expand the deposit ahead of a new era of mining. Accurate maps of this mine will assist in underground exploration and a potential restart of operations.
An ExynAero drone flew itself down into the mine and created a 3D point cloud – a dataset of points in space that represent the shape of an object in three dimensions – of a mined area at Pahtavaara.
The 3D data of this stope, which was processed with ExynAI-powered mapping technology aboard the drone, was then uploaded to Sandvik's OptiMine Visualizer and georeferenced to the CAD (computer-aided design) mine model for further analysis and visualization.
This ability to merge and then georeference data will provide the Sandvik-Exyn mapping and inspection concept the ability to keep underground mine maps updated, which will be increasingly important as these operations become more autonomous.
"Autonomous environment modeling is one of the key technologies for the future of unmanned mining," said Jussi Puura, digitalization lead, research and technology development at Sandvik.
The Sandvik-Exyn inspection concept vehicle will give this environment modeling the same autonomy as the operation.
Anytime an underground mine area needs to be inspected for route conditions, safety, production data, or any other reasons, the vehicle can be deployed from its charging dock. If the wheeled vehicle cannot reach the target area due to route conditions or underground mine traffic, the Exyn drone will take flight.
Already integrated into Sandvik's OptiMine, the concept vehicle will schedule its inspection and route in a way that does not interrupt production.
"This unleashes the mining industry to realize and extract much-needed resources while keeping employees safe and production humming," said Jabrayan. "And we're just beginning to scratch the surface."
In the near future, Exyn and Sandvik powered robots may be deployed to inspect and begin production from an underground development face immediately after a blast, eliminating the requisite wait times to vent the air for humans.
"This concept is the pebble hitting the lake moment, and we'll see the ripples fanning out over the next few decades," the Exyn business development VP said.
This is expected to include similar ground and air robots for search and rescue, and emergency first response – both in mines and in the wider world.
"At the end of the day, our robots are designed to gather actionable data quickly, while keeping human operators out of harm's way," said Jabrayan. "If there's ever the chance one of our robots could be used to save lives in an emergency, we'd move heaven and earth to get it there to support those first responders."
Exyn hopes that the integrated unmanned ground vehicle and unmanned aerial vehicle concept it is developing in partnership with Sandvik sparks the next generation of robotics.
"We've already started a few integrations ourselves, which you should be hearing about in the near future," Jabrayan told Metal Tech News.