UNEXMIN presented in “Semanas de la Ciencia y la Innovación en Canarias”

La Palma Research Centre (LPRC) team presented the UNEXMIN project in ‘Semanas de la Ciencia y la Innovación en Canarias‘, a scientific event which took place between the 7th and 11th of November across the Canary Islands, and which is regarded as one of the most important scientific events in the region.

During the week, UNEXMIN had a permanent exhibition with posters, brochures, images, and videos. This material communicated all the basic information about the project such as objectives, impacts, and preliminary results. Further information regarding UNEXMIN was communicated by LPRC staff in four separate oral presentations: these presentations included more detailed information about the project, and significantly improved awareness of UNEXMIN in the audience, and the wider community.

The presentations were mainly given to science-interested students and adults – an important group of stakeholders for this technology and science-innovation project.

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LPRC team members (left) answering questions from the young students about UNEXMIN’s multi-robotic platform.

UNEXMIN is a European-funded project, and it is required that there is a communication programme active throughout Europe in the hope the technology being developed is acknowledged by the majority of interested parties: the raw materials community, technology developers for minerals exploration, ICT and robotic solutions providers and the general public.

Dissemination activities will become more common – so if you hear about the project being in town, come visit us and find out more!

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Students present at the UNEXMIN presentation on Tuesday 8th November.

Madrid follow-up Workshop II

On the 25th and 26th of October, UNEXMIN partners met in Madrid at UPM’s facilities for a follow-up workshop related to developments of the UX-1 robot. Of importance to this meeting were UNIM, TUT, UPM, INESC and RCI – the partners responsible for the robot’s hardware, software and post-processing and data analysis. A constant exchange of information between these partners is vital for the project’s development. This was particularly noted after the latest crucial decision made for UX-1, the integrated pressure hull approach.

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Overall discussion occurring during the Madrid Follow-up Workshop

The first day of this 5th UNEXMIN meeting was dedicated to an overall review of the latest steps (including the Tampere mid-term meeting) and the status of the work packages defined in the project (especially related to the software and hardware of UX-1 and post-data processing and analysis). During the day, technical discussions were held which helped the consortium agree on details of future advancements of the multi-robotic platform.

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Technical discussion recurring to a board, a pen and criativity

On the second day, the group present at the meeting was divided into three main work groups – a way to facilitate and cover more discussion points and thus evolving into new ideas and consolidating current ones. The three work groups defined were the following:

  • UX-1 Mechanics
  • UX-1 Navigation Instrumentation
  • Stakeholders & related discussions

This topics covered the main points of discussion for the UX-1 most important developments at the moment.

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Discussion on the UX-1 navigation instrumentation workshop session

This follow-up workshop in Madrid allowed the UNEXMIN consortium to gain a greater perspective of what is being developed and the future steps that must be taken to ensure the best development for this unique and ambitious European project. The meeting was well organised – which always helps to create an environment conducive to the efficient exchange of ideas. Thank you to UPM (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid) for hosting this perfect meeting!

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UNEXMIN team present in the Madrid Workshop

UNEXMIN meeting in Tampere

In September, some of UNEXMIN’s project partners gathered in Tampere, Finland, to discuss the decisive approach and specifications for the UX-1 multi-platform robotic system. From this mid-term meeting, many conclusions were drawn which will now be put into practice. In late January/early February, the UNEXMIN team will have the robot’s hull first prototype available. From this point onward, it is going to be a snowball effect: putting together equipment combined with further trialling, testing, and development.

The UNEXMIN team gathered in Tampere to have fruitful discussion on the project development.

UNEXMIN team members discussing UX-1 strategic developments

In order to be fully operational, the robot must have a lot more specific subsystems. Most of these parameters work together and/or are intimately related. For the UX-1 robots, seven important subsystems have been defined:

  • Subsystem Main Component dimensions and weights
  • Perception system
  • Propulsion system
  • Ballast system
  • Pendulum
  • Power supply system
  • Computer

The above subsystems will ensure that the robotic system works at its best, working towards the project’s objectives.

The beautiful view from where the UNEXMIN team was working.

The beautiful view from where the UNEXMIN team was working.

Finally, this UNEXMIN meeting also led to the final decision on how the robot’s pressure hull (outer structure) will look – the subsystems defined in the previous point will fit onto this structure. There have been some internal discussions on two options: integrated pressure hull vs open-frame layout. After some discussion between the partners involved in the robotics part of the project, the decision went to the first approach. This option allows greater manoeuvrability for given weight and space.

The UX-1 robot’s pressure hull will be designed taking into consideration all the necessary equipment it will have to carry in order to do a perfect work during its surveying missions.

Norbert Zajzon, UNEXMIN project coordinator, studying the geology of Ecton Mines

Interview with Norbert Zajzon, UNEXMIN Project Coordinator

“I feel it would be easier to perform the same task on the surface of the Moon or a planet like Mars.”

The UNEXMIN project began last February, six months ago. It is an EU-funded project from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Norbert Zajzon, the UNEXMIN project coordinator, talks about the past, present and future for UNEXMIN.

Luís Lopes, LPRC: First things first – what is UNEXMIN?
Norbert Zajzon: UNEXMIN is the abbreviation of the ‘Underwater Explorer for Flooded Mines’ H2020 project, based on the topic ‘New sustainable exploration technologies and geomodels‘.

LL: Where does the idea for UNEXMIN come from? It seems to be a crazy one…
NZ: It is a quite an ambitious idea! Basically to support the raw materials’ needs of the EU, to gather valuable information from flooded mines without risking human lives, but it also can be used in different fields like archaeology, rescue or water pipe-line monitoring and so on. If I am correct, the first basic idea did come from Balázs Bodó (LPRC) a few years ago, which was further evolved and matured for the final submission of the project. In the beginning the idea seemed to be taken from a sci-fi movie!

LL: The main point of this project is to develop a multi-robotic system that can autonomously map flooded mines. How difficult it is to achieve this?
NZ: It is a very difficult task. Developing a non-contact robot, which is fully autonomous, in a very complex setting with lots of obstacles and mapping the environment and simultaneously gathering geochemical and mineralogical information underwater is very hard. I feel it would be easier to perform the same task on the surface of the Moon or a planet like Mars.

LL: How important is it to map the flooded mines in Europe?
NZ: In Europe there are about 30,000 closed mine sites, many of which are now flooded. It is important to map and know what is in our abandoned mines under the surface, mainly from the raw materials’ point of view, but also to document and safeguard cultural heritage or as a hazard study for buildings on the surface in the case of mine collapse.

LL: UNEXMIN has a total of 13 partners within its consortium. What areas of expertise are present in this project?
NZ: This is a truly multidisciplinary consortium with experts in geology-geochemistry, mineral exploration, oceanic research, mine engineering, mechanical engineering, automation, robotic development, autonomous system control, 3D geological software development and visualisation, experts in dissemination and networking, experts in founding and running enterprises. And even with this extensive list I feel I might have missed some important areas present in our consortium…

LL: What are the big challenges that the UNEXMIN consortium is facing/is going to face during the robotic platform development?
NZ: The three main challenges I personally feel are:

1) Energy consumption of the robot, as it will have to run on batteries and cannot use any outside energy sources.

2) The small size of the robot, as it will have to fit into medieval mine tunnels, which can be very small, and still carry all the necessary instrumentation.

3) Survive the pressure and the – sometimes – very aggressive mine waters and still perform the geological and mineralogical measurements in that environment.

UNEXMIN - Poster in international event in Brussels

Norbert Zajzon, UNEXMIN project coordinator, presenting the poster in Brussels

In the beginning the idea seemed to be taken from a sci-fi movie!

The first reliable look of UX-1 can be seen on next spring.

LL: What impacts can be expected from UNEXMIN?
NZ: UNEXMIN is a project that could have a lot of impact in the future, mainly at a European level, but also internationally. The three most important impacts I foresee are:

1) Pushing the EU to the forefront in sustainable minerals surveying and exploration technologies.

2) Increasing Europe’s capacity to evaluate its abandoned mines for their mineral potential.

3) Help to document and safeguard  Europe’s unique mining heritage.

Besides the main scope of the above impacts, UNEXMIN could also lead to the deploy of robotics technologies in new application domains, acquiring valuable geological information and allow technology transfer between robotic solutions and mineral industries, that will lead to further innovation in those areas.

LL: What are the next steps to be taken for the project development?
NZ: The next important steps are to further develop, simulate and test different conceptual models of the robot to be able to carefully choose about the basic robot design, and also specify what kind of scientific instruments can be incorporated and with what kinds of performance constraints.

LL: Who are the interested parties in this project? And who can benefit from the service that is going to be available in the future?
NZ: There are a lot of interested parties, the so called stakeholders, in this project. Overall, I can say that all individuals from the geology, minerals exploration and mining sector, the ICT/robotics community and even the general public interested in the thematics of this project are our main targets. I believe that the technology developed in UNEXMIN will benefit a whole range of future consumers: geology-related companies (mining, geological surveys or geoheritage sites), national authorities, universities and other companies in areas such as environment or industrial diving and even for tourist sites (e.g. caving).

LL: You were present in Brussels in an international event about raw materials (see picture above). How did it go?
NZ: It went very well, actually! Many people were interested about our project not only from Europe, but also from overseas, like Canada or Mexico. And UNEXMIN was invited to participate in further discussions and conferences in similar fields of research in the next year. We are starting to make a name for ourselves…

LL: When should we expect to see the first looks of UX-1?
NZ: The basic concept and the main conceptual sub-system plans should be ready in the beginning of 2017, so the first reliable look of UX-1 can be seen on next spring.

LL: And will it be a good looking robot or just an ugly scrap of metal and other things?
NZ: The most important point of the design is functionality and survivability. As it has to move underwater in an environment with a lot of obstacles like ropes and spikes the basic shape is already decided, which is spherical with as a smooth surface as possible. Of course it has to carry enormous amounts of light sources, lasers, cameras, different sensors and many thrusters on its surface, so the final look will be very interesting. The recent conceptual drawings are very exciting, so I think it will be a good looking robot, moreover when it will run with all the different lights and lasers on for its sensors – the look will be astonishing!

LL: Final question: Is it difficult to be the project coordinator of such a big EU project?
NZ: Yes, it is a difficult and tiring job, but at the same time it is a very good and joyful experience to be in the centre of a very interesting technology development with a great variety of scientist experts in different fields from different parts of Europe, from Finland to Portugal thru Spain, England, Slovenia and Hungary.

UNEXMIN team at Porto Follow-up meeting. Photo in front of INESCTEC lab building.

Porto follow-up Workshop

UNEXMIN partners met in the beautiful city of Porto during the 28th and 29th of July.

The reason for this reunion was a UNEXMIN follow-up meeting on the project where every currently running Work Package (a block of the work breakdown structure) coordinator presented a review of the work done until now, and a planning of respective future developments.

There were also many relevant discussions on topics related to UNEXMIN’s overall advancement, such as project organisation and the development of UX-1, the multi-robotic platform.

UNEXMIN team discussing UX-1 developments

The UNEXMIN team discussing UX-1 developments

One of the main points from this meeting was the debate concerning the first prototype’s construction and development. The questions raised about the project’s progress will have a final and determinant answer when UNEXMIN partners meet in Tampere in September, where they will take part in a one-week-work agenda totally devoted to clarify the next steps to take regarding UX-1.

UNEXMIN meeting: autonomous robotic system that goes into the sea floor.

TURTLE – a robotic autonomous deep sea lander – made from other INESCTEC european project

UNEXMIN partners also visited the labs of INESCTEC (Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores, Tecnologia e Ciência), one of the partners from the UNEXMIN project consortium, who are specialists in sea robotics, and who have past experience in this field related to UNEXMIN. In the labs the consortium could see and learn how the past and current experience in deep sea robotics from INESCTEC will positively impact the UNEXMIN project and the development of a new technology trend – to have a multi-robotic platform capable of mapping flooded mines that are currently inaccessible.

UNEXMIN team at Porto Follow-up meeting. Photo in front of INESCTEC lab building.

UNEXMIN team at Porto Follow-up meeting