QUT researchers develop new positioning system for underground mining vehicles

QUT researchers have developed a new technology that could enable underground mining vehicles to navigate autonomously through dust, camera blur and bad lighting.

Autonomous vehicles are increasingly used in the underground mining industry and often face situations that require them to navigate through harsh environment and maze of tunnels.

Image credit: www.qut.edu.au

At present, mine operators are using costly sensing or infrastructure modifications to achieve this, but researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at QUT believe the new positioning tech substantially increases both efficiency and safety underground.

Professor Michael Milford said the technology, which uses mathematics and biologically-inspired algorithms, features a vehicle-mounted cameras to track the location of the vehicle in underground tunnels to within metres.

“This is stage one of the project. It’s commercially important to be able to track the location of all your mobile assets in an underground mine, especially if you can do it cheaply without needing to install extra infrastructure or use expensive laser sensing,” he said.

“We have developed a positioning system that uses cameras rather than lasers, based on more than a decade of research in biologically-inspired navigation technology.”

He said the team faced a number of challenges when trialing the technology in harsh mine site environments, with the tough terrain rendering the GPS inoperable, and the interference from the rock mass and lack of access points making Wireless Sensor Networks less reliable.

.“It wasn’t all plain sailing for our experiments as the research systems did not work that well when first tested in mine site environments,” Mr Milford noted.

“We had to add some additional intelligence to the technology, to deal with the challenging environment. We developed a system which could intelligently evaluate the usefulness of the images coming in from the camera – and disregard ones that were blurry, dusty, or that were washed out from incoming vehicle lights.”

He said the research team has already completed two field trips to Australian mine sites and is set to have a third trip later this month.

“This new field trip will enable us to start testing the second stage of the project, a more precise positioning technology,” Professor Milford continued.

“If you can track the vehicle’s position to within a few centimetres then you can use that technology to run the vehicle autonomously.”

The research will be presented on December 12 at the Australasian Conference on Robotics and Automation in Sydney.

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