Rock-falls are the top safety issue in mines. The inaccessibility of some areas underground makes it difficult and dangerous for inspections to take place after blasting.

At a recent event, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) showcased some of the latest technologies to support the country’s mining sector.

Among the technologies was a robot platform equipped with safety inspection sensors to enter mines during safety periods. Known as “Monster”, the robot aims to assess and identify risks for underground mines.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), which is being researched as one of the South African Mining Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) Advanced Orebody Knowledge technologies, was also displayed. This technology contributes to the Zero Harm objective, by enabling miners to visualise potentially hazardous geological structures in the hanging wall that could lead to falls of ground.

The CSIR also developed a pedestrian detection system. The system uses a range sensor to determine the distance to each identified person and tracks each person to determine if and when a collision is likely to occur.

CSIR mining experts – Dr Dave Roberts, Dr Shaniel Davrajh and Dr Michael van Schoor – said the organisation was working hard to come up with cutting-edge technologies to improve safety in the mines.

While commenting on the role that the CSIR is playing in supporting the South African mining industry, CSIR principal researcher, Dr Roberts, said the organisation was identified as a primary research provider to the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) Centre of Excellence.

Principal engineer, Dr Davrajh, highlighted the importance of using robotic technologies in the mines. He said using these technologies could assist in reaching some of the areas that are not accessible during an incident.

“A robot equipped with safety inspection sensors will enter the mine during a safety period. It becomes very difficult and dangerous for humans to enter into the mine after an incident”, he said.

Principal geophysicist, Dr Van Schoor, talked about the use of GPR technology for rock mass stability investigations.

He said there was a need for reliable rock mass stability determination. “Managing health and safety risk in a mine requires real-time monitoring and quantification of the underground hazards and the exposure of personnel and equipment to such hazards.”

Another technology that was exhibited is an early-warning and monitoring system called “RockPulse”. RockPulse will assist mines with listening to raw micro-seismicity; extracting micro-fracture features and analysing the resulting series of features to detect large instabilities taking place in the rock mass in time.