Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Underground WASPS to Save Miners’ Lives

By Stephen Luntz

Underground wireless tracking technology could assist the rescue of trapped miners after disasters, and may also increase productivity when things are going well.

CSIRO Manufacturing, Materials and Minerals has licensed its Wireless Ad hoc System for Positioning (WASP) to mining communication company Minetec. Inventor Mark Hedley describes WASP as the placement of mobile phone tags on vehicles and mine workers to “communicate wirelessly, calculating the arrival time of signals, allowing the system to accurately track the location and speed of objects as they move through an underground pit or tunnel”.

Some mines currently use the signal strength of their WIFI system to do the same thing, but Hedley says: “One of our clients was getting errors of 10 metres and sometimes tens of metres. Our system uses custom infrastructure for resolution of less than a metre.”

In the event of a disaster the system may cease to work if reference nodes are damaged, but Hedley says: “When there is a collapse the main thing is to know where people were immediately before it occurred so they know which section of the mine to tunnel into.”

Mines also stand to benefit through accurate tracking of vehicles. “Many mines have long narrow sections with passing bays so that vehicles can cross in opposite directions. If you have better tracking of vehicles you can improve productivity by reducing waiting times in bays,” Hedley says.

Hedley adds that it is common for ore or waste to be taken to a less than ideal site when extracted, and “greater situational awareness” can improve allocations.

“Our system has also been licensed to a sports company to track indoor elite athletes,” says Hedley, who has hopes for other uses. “There could be lots of other places where people want accurate indoor tracking, for example in warehouses.”