Using CSIRO’s technology, miners can now send radio text messages to the surface.
Emergency two-way communications for underground miners
An underground to surface wireless communication system invented by CSIRO will revolutionise search and rescue operations in mines.
20 October 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011
Miners using the new technology will for the first time be able to send radio text messages through rock strata to surface personnel.
CSIRO's wireless expertise has been recognised for decades, since the organisation's pioneering radiophysics research during World War II.
CSIRO's know-how was employed more than twenty years ago in the development of a personal emergency device (PED) for underground miners. With a small 32 character display screen, PED provides pager functionality.
Utilising CSIRO's know-how, the Australian organisation Mine Site Technologies Pty Limited successfully rolled out PED, in the early 1990s. PED is now carried by 95 per cent of Australia's underground coal miners. It is a continuing export success. However, although PEDs receive text messages they can't send them.
What CSIRO did
Two decades on, with support from the Australian Coal Association Research Program, our research team achieved the much tougher goal of two-way through-the-earth communication. This was challenging because the power of wireless devices in coal mines is severely restricted by the need to reduce the risk of explosions.
Miners with the new two-way technology will be able to ask for information, report their condition and location, and guide rescuers in emergencies.
Miners with the new two-way technology will be able to ask for information, report their condition and location, and guide rescuers in emergencies, during which power supplies and alternative cable-based communication systems may have failed.
Aside from its significant value during emergencies, the technology is also expected to improve productivity by providing a reliable communication channel during normal everyday operations.
Good commercial prospects
CSIRO has signed a ten-year licensing deal with Mine Site Technologies for commercialisation of the two-way communications technology.
The new technology will enter production as new US legislation mandates that underground miners are equipped with two-way communication systems by mid-2009.
The US underground coal mining industry is expected to be a major buyer, with other export markets to follow. Mine Site Technologies expects the licensing deal to generate significant revenue of about A$50 million in product sales and services per year once sales begin in 2009.
The company will continue making the PEDs in Australia, further encouraging development of a specialised manufacturing and service industry centred on mine safety and automation, a field in which the Australian mining industry has a strong reputation and CSIRO has internationally recognised expertise.
Read about other CSIRO research Creating a wireless world.