If the last year has taught the mining industry anything, it would be the sheer unpredictability of the sector. Commodity prices continued to dip toward unprecedented lows as the anticipated resurgence of commodities appears farther away than the industry had hoped. Miners are left to brace for more possible bad news in 2016.

But that's not to say that there are not still opportunities to shave costs, improve productivity, and position for the upswing. Deloitte's "Tracking the Trends 2016" report details several strategies that will help companies navigate the mine field that is today's mining industry. Deloitte’s top strategy? Investment in innovation.

"One strategy involves a continued investment in innovation," the report suggests.
"Companies embracing innovation are improving mining intensity whilst reducing people, capital, and energy intensity."
"In fact… some miners have realized energy saving of 10-40% by investing in renewable energy installations, deploying innovative energy technologies, and driving towards more automated mine processes to optimize energy consumption."

Beyond improvements in energy consumption, miners can focus on automating both processes and vehicles to achieve significant productivity gains. In an article to World Coal, ABB's Adrian Beer suggested that the integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) can help miners achieve dramatic efficiency gains.
"[IT/OT convergence] allows the entire operation to optimize its production processes to maximize efficiency improvements, sometimes as high as 5-10%, which are results that drop straight to the bottom line."
As sensors become increasingly affordable and as equipment becomes more internet-capable, mining companies will be able to collect and analyze large amounts of data enabling them to pinpoint drains on productivity.

Mobius Command and Control software allows unmanned vehicles to perform in hazardous areas without endangering the operator.
Our Mobius Command and Control software allows unmanned vehicles to perform in hazardous areas without endangering the operator.

"The move toward autonomous vehicles and automated technologies has already revolutionized mining operations," reads Deloitte. "As the 'intelligence' of these machines grows, they will be able to perform increasingly complex tasks, including hazardous activities--reducing labor costs and enhancing productivity as a result." Mining major Rio Tinto demonstrated in numbers released in October that a network of autonomous haul trucks in the Pilbara region outperformed a manned fleet by an average of 12%.

Investment in innovation holds many benefits to mining companies, but this is only one of the suggestions offered by the mining experts at Deloitte. To explore additional suggestions and to gear up for mining in 2016,


PETERSBORO, UT—December 4, 2013. Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) announces the award of a two-year Phase II Army TARDEC Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to continue research on control and obstacle detection for robotic vehicles.

The project, titled "Stability Control Improvement and State Detection for Autonomous Vehicles," will combine a dynamic vehicle model with sensor data to enable a robotically controlled vehicle to avoid obstacles, detect and counter yaw instability, and avoid vehicle rollovers.

"We're very excited to continue the project," said Matt Berkemeier, lead researcher on the SBIR project. "The Phase II involves a lot of controls work, giving us an opportunity to use advanced methods to improve control of all our autonomous vehicles."

Where the Phase I involved research and simulations with stereo camera, radar, and LIDAR technology in a laboratory setting, Phase II involves experiments on autonomous vehicles in the field.

"Our goal is to have a working prototype by the end of year one," said Berkemeier. "We'll then work on modifications during year two."

ASI will receive contributions from Auburn University's GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory (GAVLAB). GAVLAB specializes in vehicle dynamics and non-linear dynamics, both of which play a role in Phase II of the SBIR.

Commercialization is one of the key focuses of the SBIR program, and ASI hopes to have three marketable products at the close of the Phase II. "The base level is a simple warning system that can scan and alert a driver of unseen obstacles," explained Berkemeier. "The next level is driver assistance capability, taking over the steering for a driver in order to avoid an accident. The final level takes the steer and avoid functionality and applies it to an autonomous vehicle."

The project is currently in Phase I Option status, and Phase II is scheduled to begin in March 2014.

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About ASI

For more than 12 years, ASI has been a world leader in unmanned ground vehicle systems and components. From their northern Utah headquarters, ASI serves clients in military, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and automotive industries with robotic solutions ranging from driver assistance to full multi-vehicle autonomy. ASI's world-class engineering staff is dedicated to the ideals of innovation, quality, simplicity, and safety.

One of the most challenging dilemmas faced by military and law enforcement personnel is being forced to make decisive choices that affect lives based on incomplete information. In a perfect world, soldiers and officers would have access to every bit of information about a situation allowing them to make informed decisions.

Unfortunately, bomb threats, IEDs, standoffs, search and rescue, disaster recovery, and other dangerous events are often highlighted by their unpredictability and lack of critical details. Both military and law enforcement personnel are highly trained to handle these situations, but that's not to say that more data is not valuable.

For the past several months, the research and development team at Autonomous Solutions, Inc.—along with Think-a-Move Ltd.—has been working on a TARDEC-funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project that is directed at solving the information problem.

Once completed, the software and technology from the project will enable military and law enforcement robots to gather data autonomously in all types of terrain and with very little operator intervention. The operator identifies a location for the robot to travel to, and the robot uses a series of sensors and software algorithms to not only navigate to the end point but also to identify and avoid obstacles in the way.

Armed with this technology, soldiers can send a robot to safely inspect an area on its own without using a distracting joystick and video mount.

"Right now we're working with a proof of concept in flat, indoor spaces, which is not all that different from what other people have done in the past," said Joel Alberts, one of the ASI roboticists working on the project. "But once we identify the algorithms we plan to scale them to broader dimensions such as rolling and pitching outdoor terrain. This is where we expect the most interest."

Prototypes of the voice activated technology have already been field tested by soldiers using a wrist-worn display.

Robots leverage a combination of vision based sensors, IMU encoders, and GPS guidance to identify a location based on a voice command and navigate across distances up to 100-200 yards with infrequent updates from the operator. The autonomous system will also be suitable for indoor, jamming, or GPS denied environments.

"We're ultimately looking to have this technology in the hands of a soldier who can send a robot on a mission and then either remain alert or do other tasks while the robot accomplishes the assigned task," said Jeff Ferrin, Vision and Controls Engineer at ASI.

The technology is expected to become available by mid-year 2014.


PETERSBORO, UT—July 31, 2009. Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) announced today it has begun a program with the EOD Robotics Group at ARDEC (Picatinny Arsenal, NJ) to transition its real-time 3D visualization technology to the MTRS Talon. This suite of sensors and software enables an EOD technician to have a real time 3D "bird's-eye view" of the target environment and the robot’s position in it.

The resulting enhanced situational awareness will enable users to more easily and quickly perform complex driving and manipulation tasks.

The underlying technology was developed by Autonomous Solutions under contract with NAVEODTECHDIV using the iRobot Packbot as the initial development platform. The technique fuses 3D point cloud data from stereovision, lasers, or other 3D sensors, with 2D camera images to create a textured '3D photograph,' almost like having a CAD model of the world, viewable from any angle.

As the robot moves through its environment, data is stitched together to create a 3D map of the robot’s route. The resulting world model can be used for situational awareness, measuring objects and distances in the world, and enabling manipulation and navigational autonomy.

ASI will develop its implementation for the Talon robot with the help of engineers at the ARDEC EOD Robotics Group, who have developed their own interface to the base platform. The resulting retrofit package will have a minimal impact on the base platform. It will feature low power consumption, low weight, and minimal logistics footprint. Its use will result in no loss of current functionality, and it will be easily installed in the field. "It's an important part of ASI's mission to transition the results of our research projects into products that can help soldiers in the field. Our intent is to be in a position to offer a cost-effective retrofit package for the Talon robot by the end of the year," said Mel Torrie, CEO of ASI.

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About ASI

For nearly 14 years, ASI has been a world leader in unmanned ground vehicle systems. From their northern Utah headquarters, ASI serves clients in the mining, agriculture, automotive, military, and manufacturing industries with robotic solutions ranging from driver assistance to full, multi-vehicle autonomy. ASI's world-class engineering staff is dedicated to the ideals of innovation, safety, simplicity, and quality.