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Mine safety and rescue through sensing networks and robotics technology.

Moore-KL; Steele-JP; Weiss-MD
Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, R01-OH-009612, 2010 Nov; :1-24
The Mine Safety and Rescue through Sensing Networks and Robotics Technology (Mine-SENTRY) program is a concerted effort at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) to develop and deploy advanced technology solutions for safety and rescue in subterranean environments, with a particular focus in this project on developing new technology involving the collaborative interaction of robots with wireless networks for establishing and maintaining communication during emergency response. Subterranean spaces play a critical role in the infrastructure of modern society. Engineered underground environments such as tunnels and subways systems are an important part of the infrastructure used to transport commerce and people throughout the world. Likewise, tunnels and caves are important environments for military and homeland defense. However, subterranean spaces present unique challenges compared to other environments. Topology restrictions constrain the flows of people, equipment, material, water, air, and communication. And, while vulnerable to unforeseen events that can compromise their operation, such as fires, terrorist attacks, or structural failure such as cave-ins, underground environments are also subject to extreme physical conditions such as high temperatures and humidity, toxic and/or explosive gases, and airborne contaminants. For activities such as emergency response and exploration in subterranean spaces, the ability to keep people out of harm's way becomes essential. Recent legislation has resulted in increased use of fixed infrastructure in civilian underground environments for environmental monitoring, vehicle and personnel hazard monitoring, networked video surveillance systems, and advanced communication systems. However, in emergency situations such fixed infrastructure can become ineffective, thus making search and rescue difficult and dangerous. Likewise, cave and tunnel exploration cannot exploit fixed infrastructure, again leading to difficult and dangerous conditions for humans. Thus there is a need for reconfigurable communication systems that can be used in underground environments when fixed infrastructure fails. The MineSENTRY project addresses this need, focusing on the problem of radio communications in the absence of a fixed infrastructure. Motivated by the idea of networked radios to form a communication chains, we investigated the use of autonomous robots that can act as a mobile radio node (AMR) for enhancing communication in tunnels. In our approach we proposed a radio signal strength (RSS) based tethering system whereby an AMR attempts to maintain equal RSS between itself and a leader and between itself and a base station. We demonstrated the idea through a series of experiments that culminated in an experiment where a remotely controlled Bobcat front-end loader was driven non-line-of-sight video feedback and teleoperation commands transmitted via mobile robots that automatically moved in the mine so as to ensure the communication link between the operator and the Bobcat. Our results show that it is feasible to send remotely-controlled equipment into a potentially unsafe underground environment with communication links maintained by autonomous mobile robots acting as radio relays. Deploying such a system can enhance the safety of search and rescue workers in an emergency.
Robotics; Mining-industry; Emergency-response; Tunneling; Underground-mining; Radio-waves; Equipment-design; Safety-measures; Safety-equipment; Emergency-equipment; Emergency-response; Workers; Work-environment
Ralph L. Brown, Colorado School of Mines, Office of Research Administration, 1500 Illinois Street, Golden, CO 80401
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Final Grant Report
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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Colorado School of Mines