A postcard lake can hide a flooded mine. There are many like that in Europe. Some may still have industrial value, but which ones? A spherical submarine robot will soon be able to answer that question.
In the 1960s, a pegmatite mine in Kaatiala in central Finland closed and flooded. Today, it is an attraction for divers determined enough to explore their caverns. It is also a test site for this peculiar prototype developed in a European research project UNEXMIN.
Mechatronic engineer Jussi Aaltonen of the Tampere University of Technology aims to “explore flooded mines because they are rarely abandoned because minerals are depleted, but for economic reasons.” Therefore, there may still be some valuable minerals, or even it would be possible that there were some new minerals that we can find. “
This is the result of the effort of an international team: the robot has the compact shape of a metallic sphere filled with high-tech electronics. Sixty centimetres in diameter, it is built to withstand pressure up to 500 meters deep.
The Unexmin project coordinator, Norbert Zajzon, associate professor of the Institute of Meneology-Geology at the University of Miskolc, assures that the robot “can spend much more time underwater than a diver.” He has autonomy for five hours, even at greater depths than which divers can download, because they do not need support systems for human life, only electricity “.
This field study will show how the robot works in a natural environment. The short-term goal is to make it completely autonomous: able to enter a mine, raise a plane and return by itself. This will require some additional testing and fine-tuning, but the researchers hope to achieve full autonomy in the coming months.
Sonars, laser radars, cameras and other sensors help the robot to fulfill its function in the environment that surrounds it. These instruments work with batteries that move inside the sphere, displacing the center of gravity as needed.
Robotics researcher Alfredo Martins explained to Euronews: “Inside we have a high-performance computer, with dimensions that were impossible to obtain a few years ago, we have developed these lasers and other systems, which allowed us to meet the key criteria, including miniaturization. “
The technology center located in the Portuguese city of Oporto has a testing facility. We were able to dive with the robot to see how it moves and uses its instruments underwater. Scientists use a five-meter-deep pool to calculate vehicle functions underwater under controlled conditions.
A robotic explorer can be of great value to the mining industry and emergency services. Its developers plan to market the robot and are already receiving calls.
Zajzon is already with one of the orders: “Currently there is an environmental problem in a Ukrainian salt mine, and they want us, as soon as we finish the project, to go there and find out what is happening in their collapsing salt mines. , where it’s too dangerous to send human divers. “