Geospatial Robotic Tech Makes Mining Safer, Smarter and FasterBy Paloma Duran | Tue, 04/05/2022 - 11:51
Q: How are smart geospatial robotics solutions revolutionizing the mining industry?
A: The evolution and convergence of technology has led to the emergence of geospatial robotics; driving images, to information, to actionable intelligence. The essence of this technology is the convergence of geographic information systems, remote sensors and global positioning (GPS) systems (all known as Geospatial Technology). Therefore, it is a set of tools that can easily locate, relate, describe, and model, objects in 3D space. In addition, we integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics into our solutions to make these geomachines more user friendly, efficient and faster.
We define geospatial robotics as the mixture of AI, robotics and geospatial technology. Its goal is to generate full autonomy for its operators. Since mining involves a broad spectrum of activity, robotics has a key role in making operations more efficient and safer. For example, miners can create the layout of a mine by using robots that can walk or fly inside tunnels, while the operator remains outside and therefore not exposed to the risks of unfamiliar terrain. In addition, miners can know how many trucks are coming in and out of a mine site as they can monitor them by satellite. We use technology to examine the outside and inside of a mine, as well as to make faster calculations of ore volumes to move product more efficiently.
Q: How has the Mexican mining industry's need for these solutions changed and what are some examples where these technologies apply?
A: The main necessity for miners is to transition from manual to fully automated operations. Our demand has increased as mining companies want to remain competitive by delivering faster and more efficient results. Now, we have underground and aerial robots that possess the intelligence to act independently. Many miners resist these changes because it involves downsizing teams. However, it is important to recognize that there will always be a need for human intervention. Individuals are needed to supervise the operation and ensure that all goes well, though the robotic actions are automated.
In Mexico, this technology is crucial to unlock the country’s mining value: there are many companies that started operations but then left because they did not have the technology to continue the work. In addition to robots that can map the mine, we have sensors that can determine the presence of minerals and technology to secure the perimeters of the area, ensuring only authorized personnel are present. To further improve safety, we offer a DroneBox (or H3D DBX; Skydio DOCK), which is a fully autonomous drone that can fly around the mine and monitor the well-being of personnel, for example. In addition, we have a mechanical robot dog equipment, called SPOT, with sensors that can enter mines and detect gases to determine if there are risks present before personnel enter. Miners should acquire technology that safeguards the integrity of the mining operation and the lives of miners. Gtt NetCorp delivers on that front.
Q: How does the company enable better data collection and management through the cloud?
A: For many years, geological companies collected and managed key data on paper, which slowed down the exploration process. We offer space in the cloud, allowing miners to manage data more efficiently and access it from anywhere. One of its great advantages is that users can constantly add data, fused it (stack) and correlate for increasingly smarter data models. Utilizing AI, the program can focus on factors that may lead to new discoveries. Today, companies do not merely have an engineer looking at the data during working hours; the program searches for new discoveries nonstop.
Q: How does Gtt NetCorp work in hybrid environments, where miners want geospatial technology but also traditional information systems?
A: It takes three to five years for a company to fully transition to these new technologies. It is not only about integrating innovation but also about the culture. In the mining industry, there is often some resistance to change. Nevertheless, changes will happen eventually, as they do everywhere. To accelerate the industry’s transition, we help players understand that geospatial technology is a great investment that offers significant benefits. Many people do not like these solutions because they are costly (or so it would seem until ROI is evaluated). However, they save lives and mitigate risk. We cannot put a price on safety. This represents an educational process, where miners need to understand why these technologies are a necessity. The subject of digital transformation is not new, it started more than 30 years ago. However, the trend has grown in strength as the convergence of technologies has accelerated, which has also led to the creation of better solutions for customers.
Q: How well is the mining sector in Mexico accepting these solutions and what is your prediction for the coming years?
A: Mexico is one of the most mature technology adopters and developers in Latin America and globally. The country has become a technological powerhouse, not only as a consumer of technology but also as a producer. For example, Mexico has years of experience in using satellite images for mineral exploration. The Mexican Geological Survey has used advanced space robots and imaging satellites for 40 years. At the same time, all major mining companies have been evolving to take advantage of this technology. Therefore, there is a very mature audience for innovative solutions. The key for current and future mining trends for geospatial technology will be in creating more efficient operations based on automated systems. Considering Mexico’s progress and potential, I hope that within the next 10 years Mexico takes the lead in the industry in Latin America and perhaps even the world.
Q: What is the company's goal for 2022 and what is the solution that the company is eager to launch to the mining market?
A: 2022 will be a critical year for us, especially because 2020 and 2021 were challenging. However, we had the opportunity to restructure our offer. Now, we are pushing for more integrated solutions with high aggregated value (“actionable information and intelligence”). Currently, our company is putting together a solution that incorporates a mining explorer and mapping drone on the back of SPOT, the robot dog, to extend operations reach and efficiencies. We will also implement 5G to ensure stronger communications, as well as incorporate small, efficient detectors/sensors in the solution. In addition, we are working to combine our satellite monitoring with aerial robotics so that companies can review their projects daily and ensure that they do not harm the environment and diminish their impact. We expect a further convergence of technologies, which we will soon introduce to the mining industry.
Gtt NetCorp offers technological solutions that integrate drones, specialized sensors, GeoSpatial information and artificial intelligence, aiming to perform tasks more efficiently and with less of a risk.