Underground Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance for Unmanned Equipment
Ubiquitous Sensing, Intelligent and Adaptive SystemsView Theme
Data collection, security, and integrationView Theme
Spatial Data Infrastructures, Digital Twin and Decision SupportView Theme
Intelligent coal mines should be operated with fewer people even no people. Automation and robotics are the future. Especially for the underground operation sites, they should be operated automatically by few people and gradually transition to unmanned mining. To achieve the unmanned operation of equipment, positioning and navigation are essential. Firstly, the equipment should not be able to perceive its own position and orientation. Secondly, it should be able to calculate the target position and identify the moving obstacles. Then, it can plan the movement path, and finally, achieve the autonomous operation based on navigation.
Many works have been done in terms of unmanned operations in open-pit mines. Caterpillar launched the 777D off-highway truck in 1996. After years of development, autonomous mining vehicles and unmanned haul trucks from Caterpillar, Komatsu, Beras and other companies have gradually become mature and are widely used in open-pit mines. In China, with Baidu launching its Apollo program in 2017, Inner Mongolia North Hauler and Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group have launched autonomous mining vehicles in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Typical autonomous vehicles on the surface are equipped with GNSS, LiDAR, radar, and camera to achieve positioning and navigation. For the open-pit mines, the unmanned system is becoming mature. However, the progress of autonomous vehicles for underground mine is slow as the underground environment is completely different from that on the surface. The underground mining environment is normally very dark and confined. High temperature, high humidity even water spray, dusty and electromagnetic interference could make the environment harsh for the positioning sensors. GNSS cannot be used at all, and this environment is also challenging for LiDAR, radar and camera. On the other hand, the relatively simple environment can be a favourable factor. Therefore, the positioning and navigation technology for underground mine is the key to achieve autonomous operation in underground.
To the best of our knowledge, the positioning, navigation, and control system that can be applied to underground mines is still in its early stage. Some manufacturers who are developing an autonomous vehicle for open-pit mine such as our collaborator Tage IDrive are trying to enter this field. However, the progress is slow because of the challenges of positioning and navigation and the requirements of communication infrastructure.