It’s estimated that there’s a EUR 100 billion worth of unobtainable minerals lying at the bottom of flooded and abandoned mines across Europe, according to a story in www.Phys.org. Reaching these deposits has been too difficult and dangerous through conventional dry mining techniques. Now, an innovative underwater robotic system has been developed to pursue these resources safely. The dual robotic systems were created by the VAMOS project (Viable Alternative Mine Operating System) along with its main partner, the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC), and a consortium of 16 European firms and research institutes.
VAMOS is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, which is part of a research and innovation action program created to develop new technology for automated mining, mining of small deposits and alternative mining methods. The two underwater robotic vehicles at the heart of the VAMOS project include a smaller vehicle that does underwater 3D mapping, and a larger 25 ton tracked robot capable of cutting through rock, and pumping the crushed ore-bearing rock to the surface.
One of the greatest challenges of the VAMOS project was accurate navigation and positioning for both of the remotely operated vehicles. The team developed robust multi-sensor position and navigation systems composed of numerous sensors. The resulting systems required the fusion and integration of subsea altimeters, pressure sensors, cameras, sonar, laser range finders, GNSS, and inertial measurement units (IMUs), to name a few. Playing a vital role within these systems were the KVH GEO-FOG 3D Dual INS, and the high-performance 1775 IMU.
The KVH 1775 IMU was integrated into the mining machine in a turning table system which allowed it to be used for north-seeking. It was fused with acoustic positioning information from an innovative combination of iUSBL/SBL, DVL, pressure sensors, track counts, and map-based navigation. According to reports by VAMOS team leaders, the 1775 IMU operated very well in the months-long field trials in the very demanding and challenging underwater environment.
For the smaller Exploration VAMOS AUV, called EVA, the team integrated the KVH GEO-FOG 3D Dual INS with an external dual antenna multi-constellation, multi-band RTK GNSS for fast heading initialization at the surface. The GEO-FOG INS was also integrated into the navigation system with the DVL, iUSBL/SBL, pressure sensor and map-based navigation.
With the successful field tests of VAMOS and its underwater robotic systems in 2018 in the Magcobar flooded mine pit in Silvermines, Ireland, it shouldn’t be too long before all those precious mineral deposits buried in flooded mines across Europe see the light of day.