Space technology finds use in mining application

A Dutch company is looking to improve safety and productivity of the mining industry in Chile and Peru with a remote monitoring system originally developed for space applications.

EstrellaSat, which is supported by ESA, has begun a full-scale trial of its monitoring system at an open mine in the Andes and at the world’s biggest copper mine in the Atacama Desert.

The technology monitors the health and safety of heavy-duty mining vehicle drivers. An on-board computer from EstrellaSat monitors each vehicle and its driver, and sends the data to the control centre of the local mining site and via satellite to EstrellaSat’s control centre in the Netherlands.

It is claimed the transmission platform is based partly on technology originally developed to overcome errors and loss in communication with distant spacecraft.

Molly de Coster, sales and marketing coordinator for EstrellaSat, said that drivers operating at mines in remote areas are provided with Wombat – EstrellaSat’s solution to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue and illness or injury.

The drivers are fitted with sensors that measure heart rate, body temperature, ECG and body position and acceleration as well as GPS.

De Coster said the technology behind this equipment was developed for use by astronauts at ESA.

The driver’s vehicles are equipped with ASTiD, developed by British company, Fatigue Management International, which warns of the likelihood of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. The steering sensory system warns the drivers themselves that they are doing so, by predicting hour-by-hour the likelihood of a driver falling asleep over a 24 hr period and by detecting monotonous driving, and steering characteristics synonymous with fatigue.
 
De Coster said if a driver is beginning to fall asleep (20 minute lag time) or has just fallen from his cab (real time) an alarm will ring in the vehicle and the mine control centre will be alerted. 

The EstrellaSat system has been tested under laboratory conditions on Caterpillar trucks in The Netherlands and now trials in Chile and Peru are currently ongoing to further prove the technology at a mine site using Wombat and EstrellaSat’s remote connectivity (satellite and WiFi) solution, the EMDP.