MineTracker integrates radios, voice over IP phones, fans, pumps, WiFi tracking chips and sensors throughout an underground mine using a mine’s leaky feeder or WiFi infrastructure.
The application works with a mine’s existing systems and infrastructure, said Lavergne.
“There’s no need to ditch what they have. We take whatever data they have and convert it into a format that MineTracker understands. This is what makes us unique compared to our competition. If you want their system, you have to buy their hardware. You have to put in their infrastructure, their software. We’re saying ‘keep what you have.’ It’s fine with us. If you want to add to it, we have a whole lot of hardware we can add as well.”
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Four Leaf Solutions has developed partnerships with a variety of hardware suppliers, including Minecom, an Australian-based leaky feeder supplier, and Pyott-Boone Electronics, the largest supplier of communications and tracking technology to the U.S. coal mine industry.
MineTracker presents operators on surface with a visual display of mine maps imported from CAD files. Maps for each level display icons representing miners, vehicles, fans, pumps and environmental sensors. An icon with a wrench identifies an individual as a mechanic. A red cross signifies that the individual is qualified as a medic. Double-clicking on an icon for a mine vehicle, for example, brings up a window with a series of gauges showing the vehicle’s speed, oil pressure, engine temperature, bucket weight and run time.
The application also stores historical data, which would be invaluable in the event of a mine disaster such as the rockfall in Chile last August that trapped 33 miners 700 metres underground for 68 days.
“With our application, we could have let the people on surface know where they were instantly with one click of a mouse,” said Lavergne. It wouldn’t have mattered if the infrastructure was damaged. Using the historical playback, they would have known exactly where they were seconds prior to the rockfall, “so instead of waiting 17 days to locate where they were, it should have taken 17 seconds.”
As it turned out, the miners were having lunch in a rescue station at the time of the rockfall.
MineTracker has several safety-enhancing features. In a man working alone scenario, the application automatically calls a miner who fails to check in every two hours and, if there is still no response, it will trigger alerts, emails or pre-recorded voice messages.
“We can also remotely control a radio or a VoIP phone from surface, so the person underground doesn’t actually have to press the push-to-talk button,” said Lavergne. “If there’s an accident and they’re hurt, they can still communicate with an operator on surface.”
Using the MineTracker interface, the operator would know exactly where the miner is located and alert the nearest medic or other personnel to provide assistance.
Four Leaf Solutions is particularly eager to market MineTracker to the U.S. coal mining industry.
Coal mines have sensors to alert miners to dangerous levels of methane, “but none of the systems talk to each other,” said Lavergne. “If there’s a malfunction with ventilation system, there isn’t an immediate notification until the methane levels start to climb, and when the methane levels start to climb, they have to figure out why and who’s in that area. By the time you scramble and figure that out, it’s generally too late. That’s the problem with having multiple systems that don’t talk to each other.”
Four Leaf Solutions is also proud of MineTracker’s texting capability.
“This is something that’s very, very new in the underground world,” said Lavergne. “It has been available on radios, but no one has ever developed the technology to work underground over a leaky feeder system or WiFi.
“If I’m running an LHD and if the ore pass I’m supposed to dump at is clogged, they can dispatch me to another location by sending me a text message to the mobile radio installed in the dash of the vehicle.”
If the equipment operator is wearing earplugs and earmuffs, he may have trouble hearing oral instructions, whereas the text message will scroll across the display on the vehicle’s dash until the operator acknowledges receipt of the message by pressing the push-to-talk button.
The historical data available through MineTracker can be an invaluable tool for determining the cause of accidents underground. In the event of a collision, for example, inspectors can go back to the time of the accident and view the icons for the vehicles advancing toward each other. By clicking on an icon at any given point, they can identify the speed of the vehicle and the number of times the brakes were applied.
MineTracker was launched January 7th and is scheduled for deployment at a mine in Val d’Or, Quebec, this spring.