Cambrian College partners with tech company to make mining safer

Cambrian College in Sudbury is helping a company called NSS Canada make underground mining safer.

NSS has developed an augmented reality system that uses Microsoft’s Hololens 2 to allow a miner to work at a safe distance from a mine face. Cambrian’s applied research division will help design a mount for the system to attach to a miner’s hard hat.

The working face is the end of a drift, or horizontal tunnel, which a miner typically prepares for blasting. They drilled holes in the rock face and inserted explosives.

While mines in Ontario have become much safer, the working face is still one of the most dangerous places for a miner.

“The underground working face is one of the most dangerous places because it is under a lot of stress as it adapts to this open void. So there is a risk of rocks bursting, falling ground, and it can injure or kill someone,” said Matthew Brown, executive director of NSS Canada.

The company’s augmented reality system allows a miner to measure where they should place their explosives from a safe distance. It also allows them to do this job in less than 10 minutes, instead of an hour.

But when they developed their system, they encountered a problem: there was no way to attach it securely to a helmet designed for underground mining.

They would need a custom mount to attach the system to a hard hat, while meeting the stringent safety requirements for underground mining in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

“We looked high and low and decided that was something we couldn’t buy and we couldn’t really grow internally,” Brown said.

“We don’t have the equipment or the technical know-how. So that’s where we contacted Cambrian.”

A man wearing a blue helmet and an orange jumpsuit underground.
Mike Commito, director of applied research and innovation at Cambrian College, says the school prioritizes student involvement in research and development projects. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Mike Commito, director of applied research and innovation at Cambrian, said he has provided NSS Canada with access to students and experts who can help design a mount that meets all security requirements.

Commito said it’s important to involve students so they get real-world experience.

“This is a real problem identified by the NSS,” he said.

“And so, if we’re able to empower our students to help them through this challenge and eventually find a solution, that’s great for NSS because they get to achieve their innovation goal. But the student also acquires this experience.”

Matteo Neville, a mechatronics and engineering technology student at Cambrian College, was one of the students recruited to help design the bracket.

“I have a bit of experience modeling freeform,” he said. “So they kind of thought the project was a good fit for me.”

Neville said he wanted to focus on research and development after graduating.

“There are always new things you can play with and things you experiment with,” he said.

“And I really like new technologies, so it’s really cool to see and work on new technologies.”

The custom stand design project will begin in September. Cambrian said he expects a first prototype to be ready two months later.

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