Experts: Multiple use of mine rescue robots unprecedented

UPDATE: This morning’s news conference revealed new information about the use of robots in the research and rescue effort underway at the Pike River mine.

– The adapted bomb disposal robot that intially broke down 550m up the mine tunnel was able to be reactivated and has progressed to the 1000m point in the tunnel. It will remain there and is capable of returning camera images.

– A second robot has been deployed into the mine and is progressing up the mine tunnel.

– A third robot, more advanced and “intrinsically safe” robot from the Perth Water Board in Western Australia has been shipped to the West COast and will be delivered to the mine today for potential deployment into the mine.

– A fourth robot has been sourced from the US and will arrive at 7.15am tomorrow.

The Science Media Centre put questions received from journalists on the latest developments with the robots, to experts in the use of search and rescue robots in mines:

Experts quoted:

Dr. Robin Murphy: Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and head of the Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue, Texas A&M University . Dr Murphy is a founder of the fields of rescue robots and human-robot interaction. She has extensive experience in the insertion of ground, air, and sea robots for urban search and rescue (US&R) at 11 disasters, including the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, Hurricanes Katrina and Charley, and the Crandall Canyon Utah mine collapse.

Dr. Sean D. Dessureault: Associate Professor, Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, The University of Arizona. Expert in mine automation, automation management science, sustainable development, mineral economics and simulation database management.

– Do you know of instances in mine rescue and recovery efforts where three robots have been deployed in a mine at the same time?

RM: “No. In the 9 instances in the US where robots have been deployed, the robot was used by itself. In most cases, the disaster involved high levels of methane and only 1 mine permisable robot exists. In only 1 case that I know of was there more than 1 robot present (CRASAR brought out two robots for the Midas Gold Mine Collapse but only used one because one was too big).”

SD: “No, but there is nothing wrong with it and in fact, for an effective system one would expect for robots to interact. Modern space missions are being designed in such a way. I can provide the coordinates of someone at U of A that had worked on Mars missions that was looking into this for mine rescue, should the journalists want to know more.”

– What will be the benefits of the robot being brought over from Western Australia compared to the type of robots the military has been using to date?

SD: “It is likely that the machine has sensors and shielding on the electronics to contend with the environment and other dangers specific to coal mines. Such environments are much more challenging than the bomb disposal that the other machine must contend with.”

– The Western Australian robot is equipped with gas monitoring equipment. How useful will this equipment be in measuring the atmosphere down there? Will it be able to deliver realtime results to the rescuers?

SD: “I would expect that it reads certain gases in real time, and assuming that the machine remains tethered, likely transmits the results. There is off-the-shelf technology for gas detection using optics-based readers.”