There is a lot of talk these days in many industries about the so-called “Internet of Things” (or IoT). Essentially, this term refers to adding digital tracking and communication capabilities to more traditional types of equipment and devices that are not primarily data or communications based, and in some cases to livestock or even people, to better track, report on, and manage their movements and activities.
An obvious example in the underground mining space would be adding RFID or other types of tracking tags to vehicles, machinery, and personnel (e.g. inside headlamps or other wearable devices) to keep track of where they are and what they are doing. The greater level of control this brings makes it easier for engineering staff and management to proactively monitor both productivity and safety.
Another example of the IoT principle in underground mining, and one that is a bit less obvious would be the installation and use of a wireless mesh sensor network. Doing this bridges the gap between an ICT infrastructure (like the LAN that is already present in many mines) and devices that have already been in use within mines for many years. It also pushes the network edge outward from the traditional ICT infrastructure, right into the heart of mining operations.
A practical example of this would be linking geotechnical, vibrating-wire, and other types of monitoring devices commonly used within underground mines to the LAN, allowing for remote monitoring of all devices, e.g. right at an engineer’s desk on surface, or even halfway around the world, if a cloud-based internet option is added.
Each wireless node then connects to, and shares information with, all other nodes within range, creating a virtual “mesh” (hence the term “wireless mesh sensor network”) that moves the data along until it reaches a network gateway and enters the mine’s existing local area network (LAN), allowing it to be read and used by the relevant people for monitoring and decision making.