NIOSH considering robotic technologies for mining rescue

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States is looking for proposals to address a need for practical robotics technologies or systems that can be used by the mining community to support self-escape or mine rescue efforts in the event of an emergency.
"When the lives of mine workers are in danger, it is critical that mine emergency response systems are in place and able to function quickly and effectively," said NIOSH. "Such technologies would assist in improving emergency response to mine disasters."

NIOSH's Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) is looking into robotics technologies or systems that can improve self- escape and rescue. ?The following are four focus areas that are currently envisioned for the use of robotics assistance during escape and rescue operations:

• Before and during rescue operations there is a need to identify the conditions within the mine and the viability of any trapped miners. These areas may be miles from areas that can be safely accessed by the rescue teams, and therefore can only be reached through boreholes. These boreholes are generally two to eight inches in diameter. OMSHR is interested in robots that can be lowered through the boreholes and then navigated through the mine providing visual and atmospheric information to the operator on the surface.

• When exploring the mine, rescue teams may encounter conditions in front of their direction of progress that are unknown or could possibly be too dangerous to explore without more information. These areas may be scattered with debris and rock, which makes navigation by a robot challenging, additionally the height of the entry may be as low as three feet. OMSHR is interested in robotics technology that can explore several thousand feet ahead of the rescue teams and provide visual and atmospheric information to the rescued team at the fresh air base.

• During rescue operations, the rescue members may need to remove injured miners or carry similarly heavy loads into and out of the mine. OMSHR is interested in robotics technology that can provide a "pack mule" capability for the rescue teams on a fully or semi-autonomous basis.

• A problem which is unique to coal mining and other gassy mining environments facing any robotics development is the possible ignition of methane by electrical energy associated with the robot. The power limitations created by intrinsic safety requirements and additional weight associated with explosion proof boxes, greatly limits the types of robots that can be used. OMSHR is interested in explosion protection technologies that can be applied to robots to minimize or eliminate the possibility of explosion with minimal impact on the mobility and weight of the robots.