Robots In The Mines

The safety of workers is the number one reason behind the increased use of robots in mines in Canada. Or so says John Meech, a University of Columbia professor.

Back in 2003, the veteran professor of mining at the University of British Columbia began telling students to prepare for a ground-shaking transition into automated mining equipment: robots. Think driverless dump trucks, remote-operated drilling vehicles, and other craft to do difficult or dangerous work underground.

“It took about three or four years for the students to accept that this is their future,” Meech said. “Many of the students asked ‘Why do we have to know about robots? That’s what the electrical and mechanical experts should be spending their time on.’

“The way I approached it with them was to say, ‘Well, yes, the installation of these facilities and the maintenance of equipment will be done by electrical and mechanical people, but mining engineers have to understand the principles behind this equipment and how it all co-ordinates together. Within a few years you are going to be responsible for a fleet of trucks that are fully robotic.’ ”

“Going underground is a dangerous occupation and if we can set up systems where we can operate the equipment remotely from surface, then we’ve removed the miner from the danger.”

Science fiction readers agree about the safety of workers, but they also understand how cool mining robots can be. Emmett McDowell wrote about mining worm robots in his 1946 story Love Among the Robots. A few years earlier, Isaac Asimov wrote about asteroid mining robots in his 1944 short story Catch That Rabbit.

It was not overmassive by any means, in spite of its construction as thinking-unit of an integrated seven-member robot team. It was seven feet tall, and a half-ton of metal and electricity. A lot? Not when that half-ton has to be a mass of condensers, circuits, relays, and vacuum cells that can handle practically any psychological reaction known to humans...

"Dave," [Powell] said. "You're a stable, rock-bottom mining robot...

Via Calgary Herald.

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