South African mine equipment manufacturer Schauenburg Systems has partnered with technology firm dotNetix to develop a vehicle-mounted camera which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the operational safety of mines.

The SCAS PDS AI Camera is part of Schauenburg’s range of proximity-detection systems (PDS), which can identify the relative places of tags placed on individuals, machinery and mining equipment, and alert workers if any moving parts are on course to collide with one another.

The camera is the first of such systems to be specially designed for use in vehicles as it can record video and track events as the vehicle moves and warn the driver of any impending collisions. Critically, the device can also detect and respond to obstacles that have not been tagged, potentially reducing the costs of creating a holistic PDS system as tags do not need to be purchased for a range of machines, and enabling the technology to detect a wide range of devices.

“This technology, in layman’s terms, is when a vehicle PDS system can detect and warn a driver of other objects without having any active PDS equipment installed on these objects,” said Schauenburg when announcing the camera. The 3D cameras were designed to accurately calculate the distance to an object by means of configurable dynamic zones of up to 150m.”

Schauenburg executives are optimistic that the camera could be used in similar technologies in the future, such as automation, due to its ability to predict impending collisions. BHP is one company investing heavily in automation, with its Jimblebar project in Australia becoming the world’s first mine to use entirely autonomous vehicles in 2017. The industry is increasingly aware of the potential safety benefits of removing human workers from potentially dangerous environments.

Schauenburg will work with dotNetix, which has extensive experience working with PDS, with many of the features of the AI camera present on its Advanced Driver Awareness Systems (ADAS), currently in use on heavy vehicles. ADAS uses AI to warn vehicle operators of accidents before they happen, and is not affected by interference from other communication and detection systems, such as radar and LIDAR.

The ability to communicate effectively in a number of environments, such as underground operations or large mines with competing communication networks, is particularly important in South Africa, where a significant proportion of mining accidents took place at larger operations last year. In the first six months of 2018, 20 out of 45 deaths at mines took place at the operations of mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater, and Schauenburg and dotNetix will be hopeful that their camera can reduce risks at such mines.