Underwater Robotics System Now At Work

Underwater robot / Photo by 123rf.com


Prototype robots are now at work. A research team is exploring possible ways to explore old mines that are unreachable to divers by creating a robot to do the job.

A European research project called UNEXMIN initiated the creation of robots that can dive underwater to explore a flooded mine in central Finland for potential industrial value.

From an article in The Epoch Times, Jussi Aaltonen, a mechatronics engineer at the Tampere University of Technology, said, “We want to survey flooded mines because mines are seldom abandoned because the minerals are depleted, but they’re abandoned for economical reasons. So there might be still some minerals of value, or there might be some new minerals which we might find.”


What is project UNEXMIN?

An EU-based project, it aims to develop a novel robotic system initiated by three robots for 3D mine mapping in flooded and deep mines. These robots are UX-1a, UX-1b, and UX-1c that are made to gather beneficial geological, mineralogical, and spatial information.

The Robotic Explorer platform can survive for four hours underwater unlike a human diver. It works with electricity and doesn’t need human life support systems. This study can show how robots can function in mines or in a natural environment, in general. It is armed with cameras, sensors, laser radars and sonar that will help the robots in exploring its surroundings.

According to UNEXMIN project, they intend to:

• Design and build a multi-platform Robotic Explorer for autonomous 3D mapping of flooded deep mines

• Demonstrate the operation of the prototype in a set of representative pilot sites

• Develop an open-access platform for technology transfer and further development between stakeholders

• Develop a research roadmap in support of further technology development

• Develop commercial services for exploiting the technology

It is recorded that there are over 30,000 closed mine sites that can contain valuable industrial materials in Europe. Most of these consist of underground mines that are impossible to reach by conventional types of equipment. These can cause harm to human divers because of the complexity of the underground layout and topology.

The multi-robot platform will be validated in four mine test sites: Kaatiala Mine in Finland, Idrija Mine in Slovenia, Urgeirica Mine in Portugal, and Ecton Mine in the United Kingdom. It has already started last June 2018 and will end mid-2019.

It is a product of 13 institutions from seven countries in Europe, with the University of Miskolc as the project coordinator. These institutions are Geological Survey of Slovenia, Tampere University of Technology, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid – Centre for Automation and Robotics, La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies, Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores, Resources Computing International Ltd, Geoplano, Ecton Mine Educational Trust, European Federation of Geologists, Geo-Montan Ltd, Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro, and Idrija Mercury Heritage Management Centre.



The Robotic Explorer platform

The Robotic Explorer platform robots each carry a defined set of instruments that can do basic activities. The developers announced that they can be used for economic purposes, helping in evaluation services, the mining industry, and emergency services.

They are planning to send these prototype robots to the salt mines and to environments that are unreachable to humans because it might be too dangerous.

From a report of The Epoch Time, the researcher in Robotics and Autonomous Systems,  Alfredo Martins stated, “Inside we have a high-performance computer, with dimensions which were impossible to obtain just a few years ago. We have developed these lasers and other systems ourselves, which allowed us to meet key criteria, including miniaturization.”

The robot has the compact shape of a metallic sphere filled with high-tech electronics, 60 centimeters in diameter, and can withstand pressure up to 500 meters deep.

Norbert Zajzon explained to EuroNews, “Currently there is an environmental problem in a Ukrainian salt mine, and they want us, as soon as we finish the project, to go there and find out what is happening in their collapsing salt mines where it’s too dangerous to send human divers.”


First Trial

The initial testing happened from June 11 to 22 and took place in Kaatiala Mine in Finland. The first day was spent bringing all the necessary types of equipment to the site with the UX-1 robot weighing about 100kg.

The following days were the last dry tests, preparation of the robot to dive underwater, and making the necessary adjustments in navigation and motion. After two weeks of operating, UX-1 has managed to explore and map the underground parts of the mine.



UNEXMIN wants to influence the European government to forward the importance of sustainable materials and exploration of technologies, to further assess the abandoned mines in Europe for mineral potential and enrich Europe’s mining heritage.

Globally, this technology is hoping for influence in areas such as robotics, geology, raw materials, and cultural heritage as it gives rise to new discoveries and developments.


Robot fish in the deep water / Photo by 123rf.com