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Autonomous Underwater Explorer for Flooded Mines

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - UNEXMIN (Autonomous Underwater Explorer for Flooded Mines)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2019-10-31

UNEXMIN developed a robotic system carrying different sets of scientific equipment. It is primarily used for the exploration and mapping of flooded underground mines using non-contact methods. Other potential markets of interest also include cave systems and water pipelines. The system provides geological, mineralogical, spatial and visual data that currently cannot be obtained by other more expensive or dangerous methods. This is a completely new and innovative approach, from which it is possible to consider new sustainable exploration scenarios for the re-opening of flooded underground mines. UNEXMIN is a response to societal challenges related to sustainable exploration technologies to ensure the sustainable supply of raw materials in Europe. The demand and import dependency for raw materials in Europe driven by industry and society in general is increasing and need to be taken in account. The technology developed by UNEXMIN will help to solve part of this problem. UNEXMIN contributes to 1) place the European Union in the forefront of sustainable minerals surveying and exploration, 2) develop a low-cost and low-risk solution to evaluate abandoned mines for their actual mineral potential and 3) provide technology to obtain unique mining heritage and/or other long-lost information from flooded mines. UNEXMIN, 1) designed and built a new robotic system for autonomous mapping of flooded mines, 2) demonstrated the operation of the prototype at 5 representative sites, 3) developed a platform for technology transfer, 4) developed a research roadmap for further development of the system and 5) created a commercial service to offer the UNEXMIN technology to the market. The mapping and exploration of flooded mines was verified at five test sites across Europe with the last mine trial held in Ecton mine (UK). The UNEXMIN project due to its innovative solution managed to gather geological and spatial data of different types that otherwise would not be possible, confirming the usefulness of the technology and its benefits for stakeholders. These data can now be used for different purposes which include but are not limited to education and can be freely accessed.
In 2016 the work started in the different workgroups of UNEXMIN including: 1) main mechanical validation and design, 2) navigation sensors design and development, 3) geoscientific instrumentation, 4) autonomy development, 5) data management and post-processing development, 6) building a stakeholder community and formulate end-user requirements, 7) creation of a European flooded mine inventory to identify the potential mines suitable for the UNEXMIN technology and 8) dissemination and communication tools that were developed to raise awareness to the UNEXMIN project and its technology. The main functional concepts of UX-1 were finalized in the Autumn of 2016. After this initial phase work focused on validation and simulation of robotic functions, mechanical parts designing, testing and adaptation of instrumentation with great focus on the scientific instrument array and on the development of mine perception, navigation, 3D mapping and exploration tools as well as post-processing and data analysis tools.
The production of the first robot prototype was done at the Spring of 2018. The first pool tests happened in April 2018 in Porto. The first real environmental tests were performed in June 2018 at Kaatiala, Finland. This was an ideal possibility to test the robot in flooded open pit and in flooded underground tunnels also. The first true underground mine trial happened in September 2018 in the mercury mine of Idrija, Slovenia. At Idrija the UX-1a was capable to cover and map the available flooded parts in a very challenging environment, where the first full autonomous dives were also performed with success.
Then in March 2019 the second UX-1 robot was assembled and both robots were used in Urgeiriça mine, Portugal. Used alternately, the robots managed to navigate the main open galleries and tunnels of the flooded mine while registering information on the state of the workings and on general geological features down to 106m.
The UNEXMIN team went to the UK where it tested the technology at Ecton mine in May 2019. Here the robots mapped the three access points, two main shafts and a pipe of the mine, that nobody has seen for more than 160 years. The deepest point to where a robot navigated was around 125 m.
The last field test happened in June – July 2019 in Budapest, Hungary, in the Molnár János cave. This thermal cave was a new environment to further prove the operability of the robot. Automation functions and motion control of the robot were especially tested here.
The results of the trials were disseminated and communicated in different European conferences, on the project’s website, social media channels and during the UNEXMIN Final Conference held in Brussels on September 2019. Furthermore, at this event the UX-1 robot was also shown to the public with great impact.
Finally, and as envisaged in the GA a joint company was created at the end of the project. This company, UNEXMIN GeoRobotics Ltd will continue the development and exploitation of the technology to the market and guarantee the exploitation of UNEXMIN’s results.
UNEXMIN provides a capability for Europe to re-evaluate existing abandoned mines for their mineral potential with “improved economic viability and investment security of mining operations” and to develop a service sector which supports this activity on a commercial basis. For most flooded mines, especially those abandoned long ago no accurate survey data is available. The UNEXMIN technology can provide detailed information on mine geometry as well as geological data that will assist the development of accurate 3D geological models, thus decreasing the needs for expensive drilling from surface or replacing the even higher costs and safety risks of de-watering flooded mines. With the scientific payload of the UX-1 robots, mineralized zones can be identified. The collection of new geological data together with the referred considerations can lead to the possible re-opening of closed mines with sustainable exploitation: bringing benefits to local communities by creating jobs and economical movements and a push for the various industries that rely on mineral raw materials to operate, which are the backbone of European economy.
The UNEXMIN technology will help minerals prospecting and equipment providers, and tools and robotic solutions development SMEs to expand in their lines of work. It will also help to develop ICT/robotic industries pushing them to the forefront of science and technology. The activities deriving from UNEXMIN’s technology can result in a more secure supply of minerals and create new technologies and business lines. The mining sector will be the most positively impacted with UNEXMIN’s innovative technology. The project high-tech direction can have a transformational effect on the industry attracting new ideas and making minerals research more attractive to young scientists. Other social benefits of this technology are the possibility to survey flooded mine workings which are potentially hazardous, especially those near-surface which can be the cause of sink-hole development and assessment of risks of water contamination from flooded mines, as well as the ability to use this technology in other underwater environments where exists a high risk for humans.
Molnár János cave Budapest 2019July, starting a dive
Urgeirica mine, Portugal, launch site 2018March
Final conference and demo at Nemo33 Brussels 2019Sept
UX-1A is entering to the pool first time, Porto, Portugal April of 2018
Molnár János cave Budapest 2019July launching the robot
Molnár János cave Budapest 2019July 1
Ecton mine, inside the pumping shaft
Idrija mine launch site -192m
Kaatiala launch site
Idrija mine workplace at -120m
EU Industry day 2019Feb
Ecton mine, Pumping shaft go to the deep
UX-1A is investigating mineral standards underwater, Kaatiala, Finland June of 2018
UX-1A is at the entrance of the underground tunnels of Kaatiala, Finland June of 2018
Logo of the project (color, with white background)