Gold mining played a very important role in South Africa’s history and the country’s economy still leans heavily on earnings from gold and diamond mining.
The gold mining industry accounts for more than one-third of exports and the diamond mining industry of SA is the fourth largest in the world. The country also mines for coal, manganese and chrome.
Despite these economic advantages, the South African mining industry has run into trouble numerously as a result of dangerous mines. These dangerous mines tend to cave in and trap miners underground, leading to mining deaths. Mining deaths in South Africa fell for eight consecutive years, hitting a record low of 77 in 2015, but the country has registered a spike in deaths this year.
Drone technology could help with SA’s dangerous mines
To offset this issue, an industry conference heard on Thursday that South Africa is developing drones for the mining industry for inspections in potentially unsafe areas underground. These drones should remove the need to put miners in harm’s way.
The innovation was announced by Fred Cawood, the director of the Mining Institute at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand. He told the conference that drones were being developed to send to danger zones beneath the surface. He also spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the conference stating;
“It is to use the machine in areas where people should not be.”
SA’s mines are among the deepest and most dangerous mines in the world and therefore the issue of safety is a huge one for the country’s government. Fred Cawood said there was a prototype under development, equipped with video cameras, which measured 40 cm (16 inches) across and could be operated from a control room on the surface. He said that the drones “cannot be very big to operate in the tunnels,”
The drones could be put to work inspecting the slope area after blasting is done to ensure it is safe to resume work or to see if it is safe to send rescue teams in after a disaster.
Fred Cawood said he had a request for funding to commercialize the drone technology with South Africa’s Mine Health and Safety Council.