These days we are bombarded with news about the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Tech, Smart Autonomous Cars, and even Smart Underwear (it monitors your health).
But what does this all mean, and what are the implications for mining technology in the future?
What this all means: is that sensors that feed information to some type of analysis program, that then sends instructions to some type of digital or physical actuators to take some action. And this all feeds back on itself resulting in a system of continuous monitoring and adjustments. And tying all of this together is a real-time communications network that allows all these devices to talk to each other.
When we think of IoT we think of things like talking to Amazon Alexa to tell her to turn on your stereo. Or your shower sensing who you are and automatically adjusting the water temperature just to your liking. Or turning on/off the lights in your house from your phone while you are out to dinner. Yes, all of these are happening now and there is more like this to come. And it will affect our lives in ways we can’t even imagine.
An autonomous car is a good example of this. The vehicle is fitted with a myriad of sensors like GPS for position data and radar scanners looking for nearby objects. The vehicle is communicating with other vehicles that are signalling where they are and what they are doing. The actuator in this case is the automatic driving of the vehicle.
Then you can add to this a “brain” that tells the vehicle where to go, and what is the best way to get there based on current and predicted traffic. The “brain” is connected to a traffic monitoring system and has access to previous traffic patterns.
Autonomy will become more and more the norm in the future.
The “smarts” of computers have become even smarter. Computers are now learning – artificial intelligence (AI) – and can modify their behaviour based on a set of rules, but without specific instructions like before. They are truly autonomous. One of the technologies taking advantage of this is pattern recognition. Some systems can scan crowd scenes and pick out and identify faces.
In the “old days” you would test a hypothesis with the data. For example, we might test to see if there is a correlation between rough roads and productivity or driver fatigue. Now we “let the data speak for itself” and find the correlations automatically by searching through the data. And yes, there is a correlation between rough roads and productivity and driver fatigue.
With IOT for example, a small button camera on your shirt can take a picture of someone new and will search the database, find a match, then whisper in your ear or flash on your smart glasses, everything about them before you finish the handshake.
And don’t think of 5G as just another incremental change in your mobile phone. It is a quantum leap in communications – 100 times faster than 4G (LTE). It will drive a lot of IOT and AI and make it feasible.
5G in conjunction with increasing computer power will make all this possible.
Autonomous mining trucks were implemented before autonomous cars because mines are a much more controlled and predictable environment. But even at a mine, the autonomous system must be on the lookout for unplanned events, like a light vehicle suddenly cutting off the truck. A situation like this is covered by using proximity radar scanners that can detect nearby objects and take appropriate actions… like avoiding the object or stopping.
However, an autonomous truck is only about driving the truck. The truck also needs to be connected to an automatic fleet management system (FMS), like MineLink, to tell the trucks. where to go and what to do. The FMS is the brain of the system that is keeping track of all the vehicles and equipment (trucks, loaders, and light vehicles) within the network and makes the destination, routing, and speed decisions.
SatNetCom is now working with robotics companies to bring affordable autonomous trucks to Indonesia and around the world.
We also see this feedback mechanism in cases where the tires are monitored – pressure and temperature – in real-time and this information is fed back to the central computer so that this can be considered when making routing and dispatch decisions.
The same can be true for engine monitoring. If something is amiss, the mechanic can get an alert in real-time while the truck is still operating. They can then run remote diagnostics and decide whether it is necessary to bring the truck into the shop now or wait until later. This can avoid both costly repairs and repairs that can be delayed.
The same is true for real-time remote fuel monitoring. In the case of a low fuel situation, the system can look for the next good fueling opportunity – taking into consideration travel distances and queues at the fueling depot.
To get optimal loading, the truck, as it is being loaded, can communicate with the loader operator to inform them of the payload weight and load distribution.
Another example is driver fatigue monitoring. The data from these sensors (usually reading eye and head movements) can be fed back to the central computer that can decide if…
The driver should be changed before an accident happens.
Then there is the smart bucket that can analyze the material it is digging in real-time and automatically direct the digging to higher-grade ore veins.
How about monitoring road conditions in real-time with on-board motion detectors, and automatically dispatching graders to smooth the roadbed if it gets too bumpy.
Or, monitoring loader arm swings for maximum efficiency and each bucket load for maximum fill.
In some of these cases, the system alerts a human to take some action. However, in other cases, the system reacts autonomously. But autonomy will become more and more the norm in the future.
What is the net result of all of this – especially for mining?
Maximum efficiency, greater productivity, and more profits to the bottom line.
So, the possibilities are endless and only limited by our imagination. This is a revolution that is coming and coming fast.
Welcome to the future.
And don’t forget to bring your smart underwear.
President Director SNC