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Advancement in robotic technology has made a positive contribution in many industries including the mining industry. Intelligent robotic systems are especially fast becoming of interest due to their successful application in many areas where safety is critical.
Even so, robots still continue to rely on humans to control them and in some instances, help fulfill their missions. At the present, the most prevalent means of controlling intelligent robots is by use of regular Remote Control (RC). This means makes use of transmitters and receiver devices which are incorporated in the robots.
Remote controlled robots invariably make use of human control since there has to be an operator giving the robot instructions in real time. However, autonomous control is in some instance the most desirable form of control sine it removes the need for human control. Recent developments have made autonomous control realizable for intelligent robotic systems.
How Autonomous Control Works
Autonomous by definition means having the power to govern self and as such, autonomous controllers possess the ability for self governance in the performance of various tasks.
In practice, autonomous control systems make use of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that are built into the control system of the intelligent robots. An autonomous controller has the capacity to plan the necessary sequence of control actions that should be taken in order to achieve set goals.
The architecture of an autonomous control system is typically made of three levels. The lowest level is the Execution level which is the interface between the robot and its environment through the use of sensors and actuators (Antsaklis, Passino and Wang 23). The Execution level has a number of control algorithms which are used in the operation of the robot.
The middle level is the Coordination level which interfaces the actions of the top and lower level s in the architecture. The higher levels issue commands to the lower levels and responsive data flows from bottom to top.
An intelligent autonomous controller is at best a complex series of systems with differing performance requirements. Even so, all autonomous controls make use of deterministic feedback controls in their operation.
This feedback requires that a particular task be completed at a certain minimum time or using certain minimum energy. The control algorithms developed for autonomous controllers are built with uncertainty in mind. This is because robots in underground mining operate in areas where which are highly dynamic and intelligent decision making is invaluable.
Ridley and Corke state that the speed of a vehicle traveling a complex path under autonomous control should be continuously regulated according to the physical conditions of the path (30). Roberts et al proposes that robots utilize scanning laser rangefinder to avoid obstacles that may be in the path (194).
For all the talks of autonomy, it must be remembered that even with autonomous controllers, human beings should possess the ultimate authority on the activities being carried out. Antsaklis, Passino and Wang propose that humans should have ultimate authority to override the control of autonomy functions at will (24).
The reason for this is that human beings have better foresight than the robotics and also, humans can prioritize on tasks based on the desired goals. In general, human beings have primacy over the robotics since robots are at the end required to fulfill the goals and objectives set by human beings.
Merits of Autonomy
There are a number of reasons why underground intelligent robots are favored over the use of manned machines. To begin with, the situation of the mines may be very risky and an accident such as a mine collapse may result in the loss of life. An autonomous robotic will not require any human involvement and as such, the safety of human beings is guaranteed.
Another obvious advantage of the autonomous robotic device is that it cannot suffer from errors that a human operator can introduce to the operations. When using conventional remote control, the human operator may make errors of judgment which may result in the loss of the robotic. This loss will have huge financial repercussions for the mining firm. An autonomous robotic will always choose the safest and most efficient means of achieving its goals and will not suffer from any error of judgment.
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The efficiency of the intelligent robotic is greatly increased once autonomy is granted. When under a human controller, the full potential of the robot may not be realized since the operator may operate under some perceived limitations.
Autonomous robotics make use of complex computational algorithms to process the information gathered and from this, they come up with the most effective and efficient means to carry out a task (Roberts et al., 195).
In addition to this, the speed of response is significantly increased with autonomous controller as compared to response from human operators. In addition to this, the autonomous robotics’ performance increases with its use. This is because the robotic is able to enhance its performance by learning while under operation. By learning from previous encounters, efficiency is increased even more.
An autonomous robot possesses the capacity to deal with new and unexpected situations that may arise within its limits. This is possible in robotics with a high degree of autonomy where the autonomous controller has the ability to perform some hardware repairs should one of its components fail (Ridley and Corke, 33).
This is a very desirable feature since robots which operate in underground mining venture into areas which are inaccessible of highly unsafe for humans.
As a matter of fact, some of the tasks performed by the intelligent robotic are mundane in nature and time consuming. Such tasks include taking of measurements on toxicity levels deep underground and moving from one point to another through a predetermined path to name but a few.
An autonomous controller will be able to relieve the human operator of the mundane and time consuming tasks therefore increasing efficiency (Antsaklis, Passino and Wang 22). In addition to this, robotics have the advantage of enhanced reliability since they are not prone to overlooking any procedure as human operators are.
Intelligent robots have managed to meet some of the challenges that are faced in underground mining. This is because robots are able to perform tasks in environments that are too dangerous for human beings. Robots with autonomous control promise to further increase the efficiency of robotics in mining therefore increasing their worth to the industry.
While at the moment most of the autonomously controlled robotics are very expensive and used by the military and in space missions, research suggests that better, less expensive and more efficient and adaptive robots will be available in future. This will increase the prevalence of use for autonomous robotics in the mining industry with greater productivity being achieved.
Antsaklis, JP, Passino, KM, and Wang, SJ. “An Introduction to Autonomous Control Systems,” Proc of the 5th IEEE International Symposium on Intelligent Control , pp.21-26, Philadelphia, 2002.
Roberts, Jonathan et al. “Autonomous Control of Underground Mining Vehicles using Reactive Navigation”. The International Journal of Robotics Research, vol. 42, pp. 193–199, 2008.
Ridley, Peter, and Corke, Peter. “Autonomous Control of an Underground Mining Vehicle”. Australian Conference on Robotics and Automation Sydney, 2001.
The Mining Journal is an online publication that is produced on a weekly basis. The Journal styles itself as “the mining industry’s weekly newspaper” demonstrating its focus on people involved in the mining industry.
The journal covers relevant news on all the continents and its readership can be assumed to span through the continents. Access to the journal is through subscription and on approximate, the number of subscribed readers is in the tens of thousands.
The journal has a diverse audience who include investors, plant managers, miners and technical personnel. The investors read the magazine so as to identify areas where they can make investments in the industry.
The plant managers and technical personnel read the magazine to keep abreast with mining technology news. The education of this people ranges from very advanced for the technical staff and managers to high school level for the miners. The education levels greatly influence the manner in which the message is conveyed in the journal.
It is imperative to design and develop a message that all audiences will understand. As such, the publication ensures that the terms used are easy to understand and not too technical in nature. Even so, the publication makes use of terminologies which are commonplace in mining and includes some technical details to appeal to the technical readers.