UNEXMIN meeting - visit to one of the many laboratories in Tampere University of Technology (TUT)

Challenges make us stronger

The Explorer will need to employ a wide range of robotics technologies and cutting-edge know-how from deep sea underwater robotic systems, 3D map reconstruction, control and navigation, autonomy and other areas of interest. The technologies are being currently adapted and tested in laboratory conditions, similar to those found in flooded mines, integrating imaging and other non-destructive, non-invasive surveying technologies and measurement methods that will provide valuable information on the status of these inaccessible areas. Recent developments in autonomy research allow the design and development of a new class of mine explorer service robots, capable of operating in real mine conditions without remote control – such robots do not exist nowadays.

The deployment of a multi-robotic system in a confined environment, such as a flooded mine, inherits a lot of challenges and problems that must be overcome so that the robots can work autonomously in such spaces, without damaging the equipment and the mine itself.

To address these major challenges UNEXMIN brings together research teams covering deep sea robotics, autonomy research, mineral exploration and development of miniaturized scientific instruments to create this very specific technology, in a strong collaborative way. By doing this, UNEXMIN opens long-term cooperation possibilities between Europe’s Raw Materials and Robotic Technology provider sectors: this can lead to a reduction in high costs for exploration and to the development of science and technology, one of the EU’s main goals.

The first ready prototype of the robot – envisaged by early-2018 – is being preceded with component validation and simulations, to understand the behavior of all the technology components and instruments in the new environment it will be used. Post processing and data analysis tools are also in development. Pre-operational trials will be launched in real conditions and the first one will happen by mid-2018 in the Kaatiala mine in Finland.

The final stage of UNEXMIN’s project will lead to deployment of extensive pilots, during which UX-1 will be improved after each trial session. The last step of this process will culminate with the hardest challenge: resurveying the entire flooded section of Ecton underground mine. The robot’s development process is meant to be spiralling with continuous upgrades that are implemented in parallel with more and more complex field pilots. This will demonstrate the Platform’s scalability from small missions to the larger ones by increasing the number of deployed autonomous drones, and supporting multi-robot cooperation in confined 3D spaces with real-time sensor and data fusion for reliable navigation and communication.