Update: Deloitte Developing Wearable Tech To Spur Mining Innovation, Efficiency
Editor's Note:The article was updated to recognize the contributions of Deloitte's partners in creating the smart helmet: Vandrico Inc and Cortex Design.
(Kitco News) - The mining sector is such a laggard when it comes to adopting new technology that an international management company is stepping into develop wearable tech, as it sees a void in innovation.
Jürgen Beier, mining and resource leader at Deloitte, his company's new wearable tech.
During the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference on Monday, Deloitte promoted its wearable technology -- a smart helmet -- that has the potential to making mining radically more efficient.
Jürgen Beier, mining and resource leader at Deloitte, said that the company is not trying to develop a new business model of developing mining gadgets, but it is highlighting how innovation can make a mine more productive and safer.
“We think there is an opportunity to be an enabler to show that the technology can work,” he said.
The wearable tech is a small beeper-like communication device with a red and green lit buttons. The device is attached to the bottom front of the helmet and the lights flash when they have a message or warning is sent. The device also has four sensors to detect methane levels, carbon monoxide, diesel fumes and even radiation levels, depending on the mining conditions.
The device can warn a miner of potentially harmful or dangerous situations and the company can communicate directly with miners to better manage them. Each beeper also has a radio-frequency identification tag on it so companies know exactly where their workers are.
“This allows us to manage the mine almost like a battlefield, sending equipment and workers where they are needed the most,” he said. “There is a big need in the industry to improve the overall system productivity. This allows us to manage the mine proactively.”
While Deloitte developed the specifications for the smart helmet, it was actually created through a partnership between two other companies: Vandrico Inc and Cortex Design; Vandrico provided the software and platform that allows managers to track the device in real-time and Cortex Design engineered and manufactured the Smart Helmet hardware."
Beier explained that Deloitte was driven to develop the technology because the company wanted to have a better understanding of what happens in real time in a mining operation. He said without the real-time data, it is impossible to make a mine more efficient.
“We are not in the business of creating widgets, but we are interested in -- as a firm -- in creating an integrated data view of what’s going on so decision-making can be improved,” he said.
What has allowed Deloitte the ability to create its communication device is the development of underground wifi, one of the most important innovations adopted by the sector, he said.
Having a better understanding of real-time operations is also an important step in what Beier said he sees as the next major technological revolution for the sector: humanless mining.
He noted that some companies are already testing fully electricautonomous vehicles and mining drones, controlled from an above-ground operations center.
While the idea of robot miners seems far-fetched, Beier said that companies need to start thinking about these radical ideas to spur innovation. He added that innovation is imperative for the future of the sector.
“There is not one big innovation that you can say is going to change the world of mining; it’s an ecosystem and there are a lot of things that need to play together,” he said.