The M3 Robotics Team — led by Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Andrew Petruska — flew a rotocopter in an underground mine this past week. The goal of this proof-of-concept test was to demonstrate a system solution capable of autonomous navigation in GPS-denied confined spaces.

The project adapted a commercial UAV to autonomously fly in the confined space of an underground mine while building a 3D model of the mine as it travels and monitors key safety metrics such, as oxygen levels. Such capability will provide many benefits to the safety and health of underground miners.

As examples, this technology can be used to assess the risk of roof collapse, the estimation of excavated volume, or assessment of ore pass blockage. Having an autonomous system perform these functions removes humans from these dangerous conditions. Once developed, this technology can be applied to other tasks such as inspection operations in open stopes, exploration of abandoned workings, and potentially search and rescue—where in the air vehicles search and ground vehicles rescue.

The M3Robotics Lab is researching how to bring autonomous platforms to reduce the risk to the workers and provide enhanced information to the mining companies. Projects range from autonomous navigation in underground environments to automated mineral detection.