Mining Contract: Development of a Mine Rescue Drilling System and Robotics Mission Feasibility Study

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Contract # 08FED898349
Start Date 5/14/2008
End Date 2/14/2014
Research Concept

This contract will conduct experiments to improve the efficiency and speed of drilling operations as part of a program related to geothermal wells for energy recovery, and to apply the results to mine rescue drilling. This contract will also develop robots and robotic assist technology for potential applications in mine rescue.

Topic Area

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is complete.

The contract generated two final reports. To receive a copy of either final report, send a request to, specifying the name of the desired report.

This contract was funded as part of an interagency agreement program, which provides a formal means for federal government agencies to share and further technology that could apply to and benefit mine safety and health. OMSHR identifies other government agencies with the knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to a health and safety gap and works collaboratively with these agencies to identify the type of technology solution desired and to determine specifications for this technology.

Development of a Mine Rescue Drilling System

Because of the potential benefit to mine worker rescue operations, OMSHR is interested in developing a more mobile and faster means of drilling exploratory and recovery holes to locations where mine personnel may be trapped in the event of an accident. The drilling of such holes gives those on the surface the ability to explore parts of the mine with remote camera systems and provide life-sustaining supplies to trapped personnel.  Current commercial drilling systems are generally too large and bulky to be deployed rapidly over a mine location, and it can take several days to mobilize and set up such systems in the typically rugged terrain of a mine environment, which does not include the sizeable access roads or working pads necessary for the drilling and auxiliary equipment.

Sandia National Laboratories has been developing drilling technology for geothermal and fossil energy recovery for over 30 years, and has recently been exploring the development of a compact, mobile, ultra high-speed drilling system for a variety of potential applications. Further development of this technology for mine rescue applications would allow rescue efforts to be far more effective, with the potential for the drilling system to be air-lifted to a location, set up, and drilling a hole into the mine within a matter of hours.

Work completed under this contract led to development of an ultra high-speed drilling system using a specially designed, down-hole drilling hammer. The penetration rate in strong rock formations is dramatic, reaching up to 20 times the rate of normal drilling systems. A key to successful implementation of this system is determining the appropriate drilling parameters (forces, velocities, and compressed air pressures and flows) to drill rapidly in coal-bearing rocks. These rock units vary considerably in unconfined compressive strength, ranging from less than 10,000 psi to upwards of 30,000 psi. This variation impacts drilling rates, and adjustments to the drilling parameters are important to achieve the enhanced drilling performance necessary for mine rescue operations.

Robotics Mission Feasibility Study

Sandia National Laboratories has developed a specialized track-mounted robot that can be used as a scout to explore mine workings, in advance of mine rescue team deployment, subsequent to a mine fire or explosion. The Gemini Scout frame is a proven robotic system with a high degree of mobility over difficult terrain. OMSHR is interested in this research because it provides a specialized and unique insight into the development and use of robots in the underground mine environment. The use of robots and robotic assist technology could play a significant role in post-disaster mine exploration and rescue work.

This contract work involved four tasks. The first task was to begin the process of certifying the Gemini Scout Mine Rescue (GSMR) system for post-incident mine rescue operations through the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Components and systems that need to be upgraded or replaced were identified and solutions or next steps for meeting certification requirements were established.

The second task was to develop an initial design concept for a team-assist vehicle system. An initial system design was developed, and it was determined that the most likely path forward for the drive vehicle is to use a commercially available Bobcat A770 vehicle as the base technology and minimally modify it to meet operating and safety requirements.

The third task was to develop a roadmap of related future technology development. A roadmapping exercise was performed modeled after a 2011 National Science Foundation roadmap study established for NASA on the future of its technology investments. The results of this exercise are discussed in detail in the final report.

The final task was the refurbishment of the three current prototype GSMR systems following several motor driver failures that arose after testing and evaluation exercises in 2010. The motor drivers in all of the vehicles were updated successfully. However, during testing at Sandia National Laboratories, a potential system design flaw was discovered when a wire shorted out in the conduit between the two body halves. In relation to certifying the GSMR system for mine rescue operations, it was anticipated that this component would have to be eliminated and exchanged for a different solution. One of the three vehicles remains inoperable following debugging of this issue. In any future work, this design issue would need to be addressed along with any other redesign work required to meet the MSHA certification requirements.

Page last reviewed: August 31, 2016
Page last updated: July 18, 2016