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You hear SPOT before you see it. Each of the articulated legs on the four-legged robot thump down on the floor in a steady rhythm as it walks along the corridor at Gahcho Kué mine.
The robot is one of two being tested by De Beers Group to determine if it can take over routine, repetitive tasks now performed by humans. The other “Quadruped Mobility Platform”, produced by Boston Dynamics, will be deployed soon in South Africa.
Everywhere it goes, SPOT draws groups of curious onlookers who want to take photos. Most express amazement that walking robots in the workplace are now a reality, even though they may have envisioned it as a child.
“We have leased two SPOT robots for a period of a year to determine whether the units can be of use with tasks deemed to be routine or those where the safety of personnel may be in question,” explains Sean Kennedy, Principal Engineer, Asset Strategy and Reliability, with De Beers Group in Johannesburg. “This is in line with De Beers’ technology and automation drive.”
At Gahcho Kué, the trial will test whether SPOT can play a role in the mine’s process plant to monitor gauges and other readouts to confirm equipment is operating within parameters, inspect for spillage, check fire detection systems and other routine tasks, all without direct control of an operator.
During the trial, SPOT will need to demonstrate its ability to climb and descend stairs, work autonomously through a pre-programmed inspection route, capture still images, video and thermographic images and acoustic data and prove capable of working in the plant, which can be wet and dusty, and even operate at temperatures between plus 30C and minus 40C.
Trials of new technology are not unusual at Gahcho Kué.
During 2020, a new mobile maintenance scheduling and reporting system using mobile telephones was introduced at the mine. Earlier this year, smart watches were given out to a small number of employees to determine whether they would be effective tools to ensure individuals maintain physical distance, an important measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the near future the mine may also be the site to test a vertical drilling rig that will allow deeper mining of kimberlites on site and could become a key piece of Diamond FutureSmart mining tech used at the proposed Chidliak Project site on Baffin Island.
Gahcho Kué mine is a joint venture between De Beers Group (51% – the Operator) and Mountain Province Diamonds (49%).
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