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 will be adapted to and tested in real mine conditions, 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 will allow the design and development of a new class of mine explorer service robots, capable of operating in real mine conditions without remote control.
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. The most important challenges that must be overcome in UNEXMIN are:
- Explorer structural design for robustness and resilience
- Localization, navigation and 3D mapping
- Guidance, propulsion and control
- Autonomous operation and supervision
- Data processing, interpretation and evaluation
The first prototype of the robot will be preceded from component validation and simulations, to first understand the behavior of technology components and instruments in the new environment it will be used. At the same time post processing and data analysis tools will also be developed, including pre-operational trials which will be launched in real conditions.
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.
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 will open 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.