Meeting Minutes from Automation and Emerging Technologies Health and Safety Partnership, Aug. 17-18, 2021

This page contains notes from the 2021 Meeting of the Automation and Emerging Technologies Partnership held on August 17-18, 2021.

August 17, 2021


Welcome and introduction, George Luxbacher, Deputy Associate Director for Mining, Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR)

  • NIOSH structure was presented along with a summary of automation research and criticality of this partnership to our research

 Meeting agenda and recap of the October 2020 meeting, Joel Haight, University of Pittsburgh

  • Overview of topics of interest from the 2020 meeting and the agenda for this meeting


(Presentations that were made available are linked or can be accessed at:

CDC - Mining Feature - 2021Automation Meeting - NIOSH)

Industry trends in system safety: An update, Andrew Scott, METS Ignited

Summary of topics discussed: 

  • Decarbonization
  • Technological change
  • Workforce change
  • Artificial Intelligence, ethics and trust
  • Machine cognition
  • Human interaction and safety
  • New robotics approach – small, smart, many
  • Zero entry


  • Interoperability
  • Mission planning
  • Cybersecurity
  • Risk Management
  • Failsafe design
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Equipment recovery
  • Workforce skills development

AEM’s autonomous machines coordinating committee, Jeff Jurgens, AEM

Summary:  The industry saw a need for a forum outside of the standards groups to discuss and resolve technical issues around autonomy. Several new projects are planned in the following areas:

  • Interoperability
  • Perception systems
  • Lock out tag out for automated equipment
  • Cybersecurity
  • Safety systems such as geofencing
  • Autonomous machine lighting/status beacon

Global perspectives on mine automation - Update, Joel Haight, University. of Pittsburgh (no presentation)

  • This is a current NIOSH Broad Agency Agreement contract with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Queensland
  • A challenge was mentioned with obtaining data on accidents or near misses involving automation globally because of travel restrictions
  • Participants volunteered to help with the study, especially linking with further sources of data

Case study 1: Automation in underground coal mining, Jim Haughey, Komatsu

Summary: Jim spoke of the automation in soft rock underground mining in coal and trona. Some specific challenges are:

  • Position tracking
  • Roof support
  • Tough environment on electronics
  • Workforce skills gap
  • Changing conditions
  • Interoperability
  • Risk associated with automation and change management
  • Financial challenges in underground coal have slowed R&D

Specific activities:

  • Anti-collision technology improvements
  • UWB radar for speed matching
  • Haulage machine following the continuous miner – reduce operators from 2 to 1
  • Lidar tested for maintaining heading but not XP yet

Case study 2: Human factors in autonomous haulage – Challenges in operations and workforce development, Richard Beesley, Immersive Technologies

Summary: This presentation highlighted the variability in operator performance as being a major factor in productivity. Training simulators are helpful in screening high risk operators and help train for consistency. Training is needed for fleet supervisors – when an automated truck encounters an exception, it stops and the supervisor must act quickly. Also, shovel operators have a large role in the productivity of haulage.


  • Spotting trucks for loading position
  • Reporting of debris in loading and queue area

Case study 3: How autonomous vehicle technology can improve safety, Anthony Levandowski, Pronto AI (no presentation available)

Summary: Pronto develops driverless cars and they are getting into mining. Their system uses cameras and computer vision, multiple neural networks, and in some applications, forward looking radar. Radio transponders are used and V2V communication is critical to operation and situational awareness. Cameras work in the rain, direct sun, and darkness, but they still have challenges keeping the lens clean.

Concerns they see in their application:

  • Trust – the operators are skeptical
  • Connectivity – dedicated network needed, 5G LTE is used

August 18, 2021


NIOSH Research Overviews:

Update on the NIOSH Center for Occupation Robotics Research, Jacob Carr, NIOSH

Validating collision warning/avoidance system detection performance, John Homer, NIOSH

Assured autonomy pilot project, Bob Bissonette, NIOSH

Human-centered design pilot project, Mahiyar Nasarwanji, NIOSH

Powered Haulage Initiative, Melanie Calhoun, MSHA

Summary: This initiative has been ongoing for a few years, but the agency continues to explore ways to inform the industry and its workers about the risks inherent in powered haulage. The agency recognizes the need for automation of powered haulage systems and is trying to get ahead of the movement in order to better support the safety related aspects. They have produced several alerts and best practices documents in the last two years and plan to continue to do that. Their areas of focus are on powered haulage safety at surface mines, powered haulage safety at underground mines and conveyor safety at surface and underground mines. The agency is in full support of the use and benefits of proximity detection systems, collision avoidance systems, and collision warning systems. Their efforts are towards more thorough understanding of the safety related implications of these systems

Designing a collision advisory system for surface mining equipment: A case study of human-centered design for new technology in mining, Robin Burgess-Limerick, University of Queensland

Summary: Robin discussed the human-centered design process employed by Glencore and Wabtec throughout the development of their collision advisory system. He addressed several vehicle crashes in which not all workers were aware of the vehicles around them. The main points in implementing the use of a collision advisory system are to ensure that all vehicles and/or vehicle operators are aware of the presence and intended paths of the vehicles and equipment around them. This requires focus on ensuring that the system addresses the needs of the humans in the loop with system modes addressing awareness, alert, and alarm levels.  It is essential that the advisory system signals and outputs are visible, audible, readable, understandable, usable, and sensible. 

Automation in construction, Kyle Zimmer, International Union of Operating Engineers

Summary: IUOE is working towards preparing their members for the job changes that automation bringing. The union is concerned about the potential for job loss, however, many labor organizations in construction, agriculture and manufacturing have recognized the need for the automation transition and have embraced it. IUOE will also embrace the change and is starting work on job transition training and providing assistance to address stress associated with new roles and a potential loss of interaction with co-workers as automation is implemented.

Meeting conclusion:

Wrap up and feedback on the meeting, Joel Haight, University. of Pittsburgh

  • What topics are high priority for our next meeting?
    • Cybersecurity
  • Can the partnership supply a roster of members and their specialty? Can the partnership organize a single source page for research and standards development activities?
    • We will look into this.
    • NIOSH pilot projects will start collecting some of this information and that information could be shared through publications.
  • Can the next meeting be face-to-face?
    • We will plan for this if COVID restrictions are lifted, while making virtual attendance possible too.
  • Can we combine this meeting with a site visit or “demo day” to see technology in action?
    • Great idea, if we can meet in person. We will discuss at the agenda setting meeting.
  • We will hold another agenda setting meeting sometime in the spring of 2022.

Meeting Summary:

We covered many topics on great work being done in mining automation, including standards and guidance development, challenges that technology developers are encountering, and the move towards systems safety. Training and simulation for operators is a big concern, especially for the unions and this was thoroughly discussed by some of the presenters. NIOSH researchers explained that a lot of research is already getting underway at NIOSH. MSHA provided an update on haulage safety. We heard a presentation on human-centered design which is absolutely essential to the transition to automated equipment.

It’s important that we continue to talk and even collaborate with each other. That is a major objective of the partnership: to ensure that people make the connections that they need to support their work and support the overall objective of a safe transition to a more autonomous world. If anyone wants to get in touch with any of the speakers or anyone else within the partnership, please contact Joel Haight ( or any of the NIOSH researchers.

There was much positive feedback regarding the breakout sessions we held last year, and even though that was our goal for this meeting, we were not able to arrange the sessions this time. Conducting more breakout sessions is a priority for the next meeting. Case studies are always a welcome part of the agenda, so we at NIOSH are open to ideas for those at the next meeting. Hopefully, the next time we can meet face-to-face, but the virtual option will be available.

Page last reviewed: October 18, 2021
Page last updated: October 18, 2021