CSIRO has licensed communication technology to Mine Site Technologies that will help make mines safer.
One of the major problems found through the Moura Coal Mine disaster in Queensland in 1985, and more recently at both the Beaconsfield, Tasmania and Sago, West Virginia mine collapses, was the need for miners to communicate immediately with rescuers. Both power and communications are typically lost as a result of collapses or explosions, but decisions taken in the initial stages of a rescue can have a major bearing on a successful rescue.
"Miners are increasingly wearing Personal Emergency Devices (PEDs) which allow one-way communication from the surface to the miner," says Dr Jay Guo of the CSIRO ICT Centre.
PED is a product developed by Mine Site Technologies of Australia, an established company in the field of mine safety. The PED is an addition to the cap lamp/battery worn by miners.
The technology is based on magnetic fields. These are generated by antennas similar to those in AM radios but operating at audio frequencies which can easily penetrate rock.
"By utilising CSIRO's research, Mine Site Technologies will develop a bi-directional PED which for the first time will allow miners across the world to communicate from underground in the event of a mine disaster," says Dr Guo.
CSIRO developed the technology with the support of the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) and has recently registered a patent for the invention.
Gary Zamel the Chairman and founder of Mine Site Technologies says that Australia is a leader in mine safety, and this product will set an industry benchmark for safe mine operations.
"The benefits of instant communications with miners involved in an incident such as a collapse are immeasurable. Rescuers will be much better informed about conditions underground and will be able to direct operations to provide unprecedented efficiencies in mine rescue operations," says Mr Zamel. "We expect there to be a very large international market for the device".
Under the arrangement, the terms of which remain confidential, CSIRO will be retained as a research consultant for product development, and will share license fees on product sales with ACARP. The 10 year licensing deal for the product once available will generate significant export revenue, estimated to surpass $100million in services and product.