Dr Steve Henley, presently working with EU research projects, presented a talk on robotics in mining – focusing in on two areas, firstly surveying flooded mines using intelligent underwater robots in both opencast and underground workings. Results of trials at Ecton Mine, for the EU Horizon 2020-funded UNEXMIN project, demonstrated the potential commercialization of UNEXMIN with UNEXUP robots. These robots have extensive scientific instruments attached that allow mapping, imaging and eventually sampling of the flooded workings down to depths of 500 metres. Future equipment will be designed for depths of 1 500 metres.

Secondly, Dr Henley also looked at the robotic mining project, ‘Robominers’. The idea is to design mining equipment that could be lowered down a large diameter drill hole and begin operations underground in conditions that were unsuitable for large scale mining activity. As the project expands, larger equipment would be self-assembled underground. The mined ore would be returned to surface as a slurry for further treatment. What was of interest here was that Dr Henley took examples from the fossil record of feeding patterns and suggested some of these could be adapted for Robominer operations.

In the post presentation Q&A cables were discussed along with data volume. Dr Henley mentioned that the underwater robots collect data in terabits – 35 hours of video for example. At this scale of data, it is simpler to take a disk and walk the data through instead of using the internet.

Dr Henley was not optimistic about the effects of BREXIT on these EU funded project for the UK. Up to 31.12.2020 any project submitted with a British component, and accepted will be funded as in the past. What will happen after this date is still an open question.

About: Dr Henley has worked as a geologist for 50 years. He was a founder of Datamine and also spent many years as a consultant on exploration and mining projects worldwide. Since 2014 he has worked mainly on EU research projects, as a member of the UK-based ‘4dcoders’ consortium of independent researchers. A long-standing member and past chairman of PERC, he is current president of the Brussels-based International Raw Materials Observatory