The Ecton field trials have finally started!

The beginning of the Ecton trials marks the fourth time that the UNEXMIN team will be on the field with the UX-1 robots to explore Europe’s flooded mines. At Ecton, the UNEXMIN team aims at exploring and mapping the entire flooded part of the underground mine workings with its innovative system. The UX-1 robots will be able to show light on the status and layout of a mine that no one has seen for more than 160 years! The Ecton field trials run from the 13th to the 31st of May.

Before the actual field trials, preparatory workings were held last week in order to guarantee that the Ecton trials go as smooth as possible. With all the practicalities set up, the UNEXMIN technical teams – TUT, UPM, INESC TEC, RCI and UNIM – are now ready to have the UX-1 system to recover geological, mineralogical and spatial information from deep Ecton during the next three weeks. Together with the technical teams a group of geological experts from the project will give specific input to geological and mineralogical identification.

The Ecton Mine Education Trust, partners in UNEXMIN and representing an important spectra of stakeholders – the cultural heritage side -, are collaborating with the other partners to assure that the trials are a success. With the data collected by the UX-1 technology, EMET expects to gain knowledge and uncover a precious part of the mine’s past in the form of its long-lost mining heritage (such as mining instruments used in the past). EMET, with the help of UNEXMIN, can then use these data for education and cultural purposes, benefiting the society at large. Achieving this will also prove the operability of the UX-1 technology in very challenging conditions and, at the same time, its usefulness.

Ecton will be the home of UNEXMIN for the rest of May. The team will work hard to have its robotic system explore and map all the flooded tunnels and galleries of this mine, attempting an increadibly challenging task. Fingers crossed!

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Preparations for the Ecton trial are on the way

The UNEXMIN team, ahead of the official start of the 4th field trial, at the Ecton mine, in the UK, have just started with the preliminary preparations to host the most challenging surveying case within the project. These workings are needed in order to guarantee easy accessibility and operation of the robotic system and the UNEXMIN personnel during the trials, both inside and outside the mine. These include power cable installlation, telephone links from the surface to the mine’s interior, a comfort cabin and storage containers. The control cabin, from where the UNEXMIN team monitor operations, will also be set on site. Together with practical preparations, the team is also ensuring that all the must health and safety procedures are followed.

The preparatory workings will run until the 10th of May, with the actual field trials starting out on the 13th. The UNEXMIN project will count with most of its robotic system’s technology developers during the Ecton trials, with some of them (TUT, INESC TEC and UNIM) already on their way to the UK.

The main aim of the trials at the Ecton underground mine is to explore and map the entire flooded section with the UX-1 robotic system that nobody has seen for more than 160 years, after the mine closed and got flooded. The UNEXMIN technology will be able to collect and bring valuable geoscientific and spatial data that can be used by the local stakeholders – the Ecton Mine Educational Trust – for cultural and educational purposes. Surveying the entire flooded sections of the mine will, ultimately, prove the operability of the UX-1 system, in very challenging conditions – big extensions, great depths and difficult to navigate layouts.

Follow @UNEXMIN on our social media channels to keep up with the most recent news on the Ecton field trials: FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Second week of field work and major achievements at the Urgeiriça mine, Portugal

The second half of the UNEXMIN’s field tests at the Urgeiriça underground flooded mine happened between the 1st and 7th of April, in Portugal, following the first two weeks of trials. For this second half of testing the team brought together both UX-1a and UX-1b to be tested in the waters of Urgeiriça. The highlights of this second half are:

  • 1st of April (Monday): The UNEXMIN team tested the UX-1a in the Lab test tank in the morning and packed both UX-1a and UX-1b robots and the needed equipment for the Urgeiriça trials in the afternoon. The team arrived at the Urgeiriça mine site around 20h00.
  • 2nd of April (Tuesday): The equipment was unpacked, the control room set-up and fiber optic communication with the shaft switch was tested. A field laboratory was also installed with all the required equipment in the control room, to assemble the UX-1 robots. In the afternoon, after all the basic tests/checks, the first dive was done with UX-1a. The main goal of this first dive was to map the vertical shaft with the robot facing the shaft itself, i.e., pitch down and pitch up. The maximum depth reached was 27m below the surface. Up to 20 meters deep the visibility was disturbed by the bubbles accumulated in the dome glasses of the cameras, which also disturbed the DVL and, consequently, the robot’s navigation. After 20m depth the visibility was good and the water clear.
  • 3rd of April (Wednesday): The robot’s weight was calibrated in water to have a better Roll when pitching Up and Down. A mapping dive was made on the central shaft up to 46.5m where all SLSs (Structured Light Systems) were tested with the robot in pitch down and pitch up positions. The construction of real-time maps using the “octomap” technique was also tested successfully.
  • 4th of April (Thursday): Open day to media and the general population at the trial site. Two national television stations (SIC, RTP) were present at the testing site. Norbert Zajzon (project coordinator; UNIM) and Alfredo Martins (INESC TEC) were interviewed by the television stations, which showed a lot of interest in the project.
    During this day two dives were made, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The morning dive was to the first level (22m below the surface) that served as a demonstration to the media and also to validate the mapping with all the sensors. At the entrance of this level a possible uranium rock was visually identified by Janos Horvath (Geo-Montan), proving the usefulness of the UNEXMIN technology to geologists and alike. In the afternoon dive, the depth of 46.2m was reached. In the ascent to the surface there was a power failure in the robot. UX-1 was successfully recovered due to the safe mechanisms applied by the UNEXMIN team, such as the umbilical cord that links the robot to a power source.
  • 5th of April (Friday): “Exame informática”, a Portuguese technology focused magazine, made a one-day mission coverage of the UNEXMIN project. Two dives were performed, one in the morning and the other by the end of the day. The morning dive served to validate the correct functioning of the robot after the corrections of the problems from the previous day. The end-of-the-day dive served to validate the real-time mapping with SLS and Multibeam sensors, where the robot reached a depth of 58m. After the dive, and taking advantage of the fact that there was no sunlight, the team tested the LEDs’ UV-light with the minerals example, in order to calibrate the triggering time of the LEDs and their intensity to facilitate identification of minerals.
  • 6th of April (Saturday): Two dives were performed, one up to 68m in the morning and another until the maximum depth reached, as of today, by the UX-1 robot: 106.5m! In the afternoon dive it was possible to obtain multispectral images in the 3rd level of rocky areas of interest. It was also possible to enter the gallery up to 9 meters and build the 3D map of it.
  • 7th of April (Sunday): Packing and cleaning the site.

The field trials at the Urgeiriça flooded mine site were completed successfully with a great effort made by the UNEXMIN’s technical teams. Together with the help from the local stakeholders (EDM), the elapsing of the trial – on both the first and second halves – went very well. From this long but fruitful trial, the major take-outs are:

  1. The first two robots, UX-1a and UX-1b, were for the fist time working together on the field
  2. The biggest dive with a UX-1 robot was reached – 106.5m
  3. Scientific instrumentation was tested successfully – UV light, water sampler and others
  4. Navigation and movement within the application environment saw improvements – moving pitch down and pitch up inside the shafts
  5. Good coverage and dissemination of the UNEXMIN project’s activities to the local and national media in Portugal.

The UNEXMIN partners will now continue with the project’s development – which includes the development of the third robot, UX-1c – and make preparations for the next field trial in the Ecton mine, UK.

UNEXMIN next stop: Urgeiriça mine, Portugal

The UNEXMIN technical teams are on their way to Portugal in preparation of the third set of field trials linked to the project. This is set to happen between the months of March and April in the Urgeiriça uranium mine, Portugal. The novelty of this trial will be the presence of two UX-1 robots to explore and map the flooded part of the mine.

After the first two UNEXMIN field trials, at the Kaatiala mine and at the Idrija mine, it is once again time for the robotic and instrumentation developers to go to the field for one more trial. The third elected place to explore is a closed flooded mine in the centre of Portugal, the Urgeiriça uranium mine, once a very important source of radium and uranium. Here, the team will aim at exploring and mapping the three main shafts and tunnels, representing a more difficult environment to navigate and map when compared to its test site predecessors. Difficulty in operations will be characterised by the presence of two UX-1 robots operating within the waters of the mine: UX-1a and UX-1b.

The next robot UX-1b – from a final platform of 3 working prototypes – is currently being assembled and pre-tested in Porto at INESC TEC’s testing pool. Having two robots within the exploration and mapping platform gives security of operations, while at the same time, distributing the scientific payload through the surveyors, which translates into reduced size, weight and power demands of the individual UX-1 robots: one of the major benefits (and demands!) of the UNEXMIN robotic platform.

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Summary of the second week in Idrija mine

Last week meant the last half of the second UNEXMIN field trials, following on the work done in the first week. During the last days of trials at the Idrija Mercury Mine, an UNESCO’s Heritage Site, the UNEXMIN technical teams, had a full-time job with the launching, maintenance and monitoring of the UX-1 robot for and during its dives at the Idrija’s flooded shafts and tunnels.

The work began with UX-1A diving down the entire available part of the flooded shaft in Idrija, around 26-27m water depth reaching the entrance of the level IX tunnel. This navigation was only possible due to a collapsed wooden roof in the shaft, at around 22-23m depth – a UX-1A’s own discovery! At the bottom of the shaft, which is blocked by a metal net, the collapsed wooden debris were recorded by the robot’s bottom camera. These data provided useful input to the team and especially to CUDHg, who represents the mine ownership, and can now better interpret the Idrija mine.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the team tested different functions of the robot, such as pitching the UX-1A completely vertical nose down and up and navigating among the obstacles (wooden debris, metal plates) in the very confined space of the shaft; the multispectral tests also continued. On Thursday three important dives were performed (two down the entire available shaft), where the multibeam sonar’s different modes (profiling and imaging) and the capabilities of the SLS system were positively tested, and the first fully autonomous mission (down to 2m depth) performed successfully. After these welcoming dives, the robot and the remaining equipment were removed from the mine.

During Friday morning the UX-1A robot and its supplements were safely packed for transport, as the robot is now on its way to Porto (home to INESC-TEC), in Portugal, where further development of the technology will take part.

The entire two weeks of testing went fine without a single accident, with no human harm or damage to the equipment or the mine due to careful planning and execution. Special thanks to the miners of Idrija who pre-prepared the site for the UNEXMIN team and always gave a hand and warming hospitality during the full time of the Idrija mission.