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Posted on August 08, 2017

Robots to explore old mines

Robotics 2016-2026
UNEXMIN is an EU-funded project that develops a novel robotic system for the autonomous exploration and mapping of Europe's flooded mines. The Robotic Explorer (UX-1) will use non-invasive methods for autonomous 3D mine mapping for gathering valuable geological and mineralogical information. This will open new exploration scenarios so that strategic decisions on the re-opening of Europe's abandoned mines could be supported by actualised data that cannot be obtained by any other ways.
 
The Multi-robot Platform will represent a new technology line that is made possible by recent developments in autonomy research that allows the development of a completely new class of mine explorer service robots, capable of operating without remote control. Such robots do not exist nowadays; UX-1 will be the first of its kind. Research challenges are related to miniaturisation and adaptation of deep sea robotic technology to this new application environment and to the interpretation of geoscientific data.
 
Work is ongoing with component validation and simulations to understand the behavior of technology components and instruments to the application environment. This will then be followed by the construction of the first Prototype. Post processing and data analysis tools will be developed in parallel, and pre-operational trials are launched in real life conditions. The final, most ambitious demonstration will take place in the UK with the resurveying of the entire flooded section of the Ecton underground mine (UK) that nobody has seen for over 150 years.
 
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In Europe, it is estimated that there are 30,000 closed mine sites and many of these may have considerable amounts of essential raw materials. These leftover minerals usually are the ones that were disregarded during the operational life of a mine. It is a usual symptom of mining: the mines are closed not because of mineral depletion, but because of economical and technological constraints. Today, however, it could be feasible to explore the minerals that were left behind and that may now become essential resources for the European raw materials' market pool. Many of these closed mines are now flooded and the last piece of information of their status and layout is decades or more than a hundred years old. The complex underground layout, topology and geometry of most underground mines, make it impossible to do any surveying by conventional or remotely controlled equipment. One of these examples is the usage of human divers, which can prove unfruitful and even lethal in harsh deep mine conditions.
 
The main objective in UNEXMIN is to develop a fully autonomous multi-platform Robotic Explorer, that will use non-invasive methods for 3D mine mapping on flooded and deep mines, otherwise inaccessible, in Europe. UNEXMIN's pioneer developing technique could open new exploration scenarios for European abandoned mines, with the help from actualized data that cannot be accessed any other way.
 
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Recently UNEXMIN partners got together in Porto, Portugal, at INESC TEC 's facilities to discuss the project in an interim Progress Workshop. The main goal of the workshop was to give an update of the work done before the meeting, to give an overview of future developments, and to further discuss the many achievements of the project and specifically of the UX-1 robotic system, for which the software and hardware tests being developed are of critical importance.
 
The last few months have set the ground for many developments, notably: UX-1's hull design is finalised and its manufacturing is starting this Autumn and laboratory and real environment tests for the instrumentation units have been completed.
 
Prototypes are being developed and tested by the project's technical teams. Software and hardware tools are being constantly designed, developed and perfected. The first real UX-1 prototype will be built starting from the end of 2017. This first fully functional UX-1 prototype is envisaged to be ready at mid-2018, in time for the first field demonstration in the UNEXMIN project, in the Kaatiala Mine, Finland.
 
Source and top image: UNEXMIN