Mining Contract: Kutta OutCall Micropower Messaging System (KOMMS)
This contract aims to develop and demonstrate a prototype medium-frequency signaling system, the Kutta OutCall Micropower Messaging System (KOMMS, Kutta Radios, Inc.). This technology will allow underground mine personnel to report their location to outside operations using a unique “outcall” device that eliminates the need for an external power source or batteries.
Contract Status & Impact
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The 2006 Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) required all underground coal mines in the U.S. to provide post-accident communication and electronic tracking capabilities. In response to the MINER Act, post-accident communication and electronic tracking technologies were developed to aid in self-escape and rescue efforts, and every active underground coal mine is now equipped with one of these systems. However, two limitations to the existing communications and electronic tracking systems are: (1) the need for batteries for primary power or as a backup in the event that line power is interrupted, and (2) the need for frequent maintenance activities to ensure proper function—this limits the ability to use these systems in remote, infrequently traveled areas such as bleeder entries that are exempt from the MINER Act requirements.
Under this contract, Kutta Radios, Inc., developed a specialized communication and tracking system for which the underground components do not require line power or batteries. The system uses known-position, hard-wired devices (“outcall” devices) that allow underground personnel to report their location to an outside monitoring station, requiring only the power generated by manipulation of the device—the device uses mechanical to electrical energy conversion when bumped or otherwise engaged by the miner to supply power to and activate an integral transceiver. When activated, the outcall device sends a preprogrammed location-identifying signal to a surface station where the alert is displayed and logged, and then remains energized briefly to receive a “signal-received” confirmation from the surface station.
A prototype system was tested at the NIOSH Pittsburgh Safety Research Coal Mine, successfully operating over a simulated distance of nearly five miles using a two-conductor lifeline. While not meeting the requirements of a primary tracking system as defined by the MINER Act, this system may be used in remote workings, bleeder entries, or as an auxiliary tracking system for mine escapeways. The numerous beneficial features of the system include its simplicity, ruggedness, ease of installation, low cost, minimal maintenance requirements, and the ability to provide exact miner-location information and message-received confirmations.
Because of the battery free operation, the outcall devices developed under this contract are ideal for long-term, maintenance-free use in bleeders and other remote, rarely traveled areas of a mine. Periodic installation along escapeway routes would enable surface personnel to obtain information about numbers of escaping miners and the routes they are taking if multiple escapeways are possible.
Prior to offering the KOMMS system as a commercially available system, KuttaRadios, Inc. would need to obtain MSHA approval for the system, since it will be installed in underground areas that require permissible equipment. The overall technology readiness for the KOMMS is at a proof-of-concept stage or better, and the micropower circuitry utilized in the outcall device will readily adapt to an intrinsically safe design that will meet MSHA requirements for permissibility.
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