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Robotic Mining Arrives 165

Posted by michael
from the Le-Voreux dept.
Leif Bloomquist writes: "I've been involved in something called the Mining Automation Program, a 5 year R&D effort to create tele-operated and autonomous mining machines. The program just wrapped up, and the world's first totally robotic mine is now in operation in Sudbury, Canada. It's very cool stuff, and yes, in a way, it's a precursor to the robots in "Descent". :) We had to bring together space+robotics technology, wireless LANs, and even virtual reality and video game interfaces. The whole point is to enhance safety by having no humans underground, and to boost productivity by saving the time to travel underground and have one driver controlling a whole fleet."
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Robotic Mining Arrives

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  • by drift factor (220568) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:16AM (#470023)
    Did they also make a robotic canary to let the other robots know when to get the hell out?
  • There's already lots of robots in use by manufacturers, robots that stand around bolting, welding, lifting, and so on all day. This story scared me at first, because I started thinking that these things would be not only autonomous but MOBILE as well.

    Turns out they're not. They're basically remote controlled devices, with limited decisionmaking of their own. Whew.

    The site's already slashdotted, too. Geez.
  • ... remember the old Star Trek episode? "Devil in the Dark" ???

  • by gimple (152864) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:22AM (#470026) Homepage
    I have this dream (dream 'cause I know I'll never get around to it) of having about a thousand little bug like robots that get their energy from grass. They would spend the day under the porch and come out at night to take little snips off the lawn. The lawn would maintain a constant 3" length. BTW, they would come out at night so they don't scare the snot out of the neighbors.
  • by Fatal0E (230910) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:23AM (#470027)
    Maybe this means that the average price in mined commodities will go down. Of course the pessimist in me says that the corps will just pocket whatever savings are realized through these methods.

    What I'd really like to know is if any of the advancements they made to make the project work will be given back to the space and robotics community they tapped.
    "Me Ted"
  • One driver?... replacing all those miners?

    I'm concerned about the impact of this technology on the people for whom mining has been a way of life for generations. Did they also take steps to help these people re-train and/or re-locate?

    (What will happen to us programmers when we finally write the A.I. that can do the programming for us?)

  • by Smitty825 (114634) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:24AM (#470029) Homepage Journal
    If these robots work like the author says, hopefully we will be able to start putting these things onto Asteroids and begin mining the materials from there. Basically, unlimited access to minerals!
  • by smoondog (85133) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:25AM (#470030)
    I wonder if even though safety is infinitely improved, there might be a great chance for costly accidents now. For example a person could immediately pick up on cracks in the wall, water dripping, noises, etc that might be a sign of instability. A camera mounted on a robot might not allow the operator to notice. I wonder how they deal with the little things that humans do well automatically like this.

    -Moondog

  • I am unsure as to whether this is a reason to celebrate. Although humans are not needed in the same capacity as before, how many miners already have been put out of work by operations such as these. Granted this type of plant requires DIFFERENT kind of help, in the form of techs and operators of the equipment, but their number is far less than the amount of people usually employed by a mine. Although Kudos must be given in a situation where ingenuity can completely automate a process and remove risk from the work environment, I shudder to think what could be next.... and who will be looking for a new career tomorrow...
  • by psychosis (2579) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:26AM (#470032)
    This reminds me a lot about the JASON Project that Dr. Robert Ballard [nationalgeographic.com] heads up. He's the guy who's team found the Titanic, Lusitania, Edmund Fitzgerald, and a slew of other underwater stuff.
    The control panels for JASON look very similar to the ones for the mining 'bots.
  • I wonder if the machine operators are expected to show up at the mine. I think I'll submit an application to see if I can sit at home in my underwear and mine for coal or uranium up north. Every once in a while I'll saunter into some badass blue-collar bar and let them know I'm a miner.
  • Read "The End of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin. It should answer your concerns.
  • This is going to put miners out of work. Hopefully it will also decrease the cost of mined goods and increase the economy such that those people can get better jobs somewhere else. I think the interesting thing that may happen is that entire towns may go under. There are a lot of mining towns in west virginia and else where that may soon be ghost towns!
  • we will also create the bugs that require our help to fix...
  • by Brigadier (12956) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:28AM (#470037)


    Here here to the technologists, I do want to add another perspective to this article. I grew up around mines all my life, in Jamaica there are very large alumina mines that spend all there time and efforts tearing up the soil to mine alumina ore which is just below the surface of top soil. here is the problem after mining this wonderful ore the top soil is then replaced and grass is planted back .. where once stood 100 year old trees and rain forest (not really but sort of) these plants hired local drivers and operators to move this dirt around and manage the plants. the mining process alone involves incubating ore with sodium hydroxide which is then then poored of into huge mud lakes, just mare miles from public schools. with no attemped what so ever to clean this up. so forgive me for not supporting or getting all google eyed over automated minds since for me it is just another way for these huge company to tear up more third world countries, not to mention relinquish any jobs that would have been available for the local people. plants spend so much time and money investing in new mining techniques but little and none is spent reclaiming the land, lives, and communities that they distroy. !!!!

    yea I'm pissed

  • I have a real problem with this corporate propaganda - trying to tell us that it is a good thing that people will be put out of jobs?

    Hello?? People aren't being put out of jobs. The machines still need mechanics (heck, even more than normal from what I've been told), and they still need operators - but the operators are on the SURFACE now, instead of 2 miles underground inside the machine.

    So, what is your objection now? Humans retain their jobs... their jobs become safer and more efficient... they essentially get to play really expensive realtime videogames all day... Sorry, I must have missed where this MASSIVE crime wave was coming from.

    Cheer up - you can always *volunteer* for Soylent Green.

    Mr. Ska

    I slit a sheet
    A sheet I slit

  • Didn't think so. Producing more with less is a good thing, it's called productivity. The reason the US's unemployment rate is so low, and standard of living so high is because of our high productivity.

    Yeah let's go back to the middle ages and do everything by hand. People lived large back then. Not
  • Why would they do that when they can cut prices, mantain profit margins while boosting sales and productivity.

    They'd make much more doing that then holding their prices with the others and gaining the extra profit.
    FunOne
  • I am looking through the site and not seeing anything about this so I will ask here.
    Are you going to be automating any of the exploration process? Specificly the surveys. I think that after what you have already accomplished, automating an IP, Gradiant, Mag etc survey wouldnt be to difficult.

  • by Seinfeld (243496) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:33AM (#470042)
    What? You mean someone has the gall to want to keep people from performing one of the most hazardous, unpleasant, life-shortening jobs ever dreamed up? Doesn't everyone have the right to not have some machine take their backbreaking, coal-dust-breathing job? I bet next those monsters will try to take away elephant-dung shoveling! I mean, didn't we learn anything from the tragedy of the Pony Express?
    -----------
  • Maybe the problem is with people assuming that some are not capable of learning more than just manual labor.



  • young, stupid men can no longer find employment

    this suggests a third branch might be education. Besides, I doubt miners would enjoy being called stupid - I suspect there is a degree of skill and knowledge to that profession, just as to any other.
  • If these robots work like the author says, hopefully we will be able to start putting these things onto Asteroids and begin mining the materials from there. Basically, unlimited access to minerals!

    Uh, I suspect the hard part about mining asteroids is not so much the task of digging. It's not exactly trivial or cheap to get the mined resources from the asteroid to someplace useful, for example Earth.

    tetrad

  • Asteroid mining sounds great, but it's likely to be of much less practical significance for terrestrials than people have let on. It's not as though we're exactly running short on ore for the most commonly used metals, like iron and aluminum. We're even doing pretty well for some not-so-common minerals like copper, silver, gold, magnesium, and the like. Remember that the geological processes that have shaped the earth have had a chance to significantly enrich those metals in some areas (i.e. ore bodies), which will not be true of asteroids. About the only metals for which asteroid mining has much promise (for the earthbound, at least) are the ones like the platinum group where those geological processes tend to deplete the crust. Asteroid mining will be great for space exploration because it will eliminate the need to haul materials out of a gravity well, but it's unlikely to be of great utility on earth.

  • Ok, so, mining has been conquered...
    The next step in the "Mindless Job Automation" department will be LawnMowing, right?

    DANGIT!! We need to start a Union of LawnMowers right now and not let any development be done!! There are DUMB People Out THERE Who NEED to MowLawns in order to eat!!

    This is actually a very interesting subject, and I wonder how the unions _are_ going to react to this news. When the robots hit the car-factories, there was Major fallout from the workers, and I wonder what's going to happen over this?

    Will our production actually go down if enough mine workers get frustrated and strike until they get an agreement from management for no robots?
  • > Sorry, I must have missed where this MASSIVE crime wave was coming from.

    Have you looked at crime trends? They're going up you know.

    And no-one, but no-one uses machinery unless it reduces staff numbers.

    Factories are now robotic.

    The ones that aren't don't survive - they have to employ people, and that costs more. The result of this is that people are *forced* to increase unemployment - if they don't go robotic, they go bust and everyone's out of a job, and if they do, then people lose their jobs too.

    This myth about humans retaining their jobs is wrong - (a) they don't, and (b) the one's that keep the jobs, as managers, etc. are not the manual workers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:36AM (#470049)
    Tell that to the thousands of miners killed or maimed every year because their cheap arsed bosses can't be bothered spending money on safety.

    Noone can sensibly oppose the introduction of technologies that remove from human beings the requirement to perform dangerous labour.

    Certainly, you'd hope that laid off miners would get retraining etc. and in western countries that *might* happen depending on what unions managed to get out of the bosses.

    Either way though, it's doubtful that there would be widespread use anytime soon. Even the car industry, one of the most automated manufacturing processes there are, make extensive use of human labour. It's just hidden away in the subcontracting firms that produce the components that make up a car. It's only really final manufacture that uses robots.

    There has been massive automation of all sorts of processes over the last 50 years and yet millions more people are gainfully employed than were back then. By your logic we'd all still be producing wool in our back yards.
  • Ok, I suppose I'll respond to what looks like flamebait.

    "I can't see how it's good to remove the humanity from mining"

    Few industries are as physically dangerous for human labour. Major disasters are a fact of life - see The Westray Disaster [gov.ns.ca] for a summary of lives lost in a moderately recent Canadian accident.

    I won't respond to the rest of your rant - just consider this - machinery can be replaced, lives can't. Thinking that a mine is a source of a job, not a danger to human life, merely reinforces a viewpoint that labour is merely a commodity.

    Ed

  • by Alien54 (180860) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:39AM (#470051) Journal
    Hello? Is anyone listening? This is like something out of some scary science fiction movie. I can't see how it's good to remove the humanity from mining - or from anything for that matter. It might be miners now, but the next thing it will be your job - cleaners, etc. will all be redundant. We need these jobs. Otherwise what will people do - there are a lot of people out there who aren't intelligent enough to be computer programmers or whatever, so then what? Next thing we'll probably have to introduce eugenics to create the perfect breed of people to remove this. Either that, or due to the high levels of unemployment crime will rise. That is why crime has risen in the last 30 years - young, stupid men can no longer find employment, and so they are alienated from society. The problem's bad enough now, but just think what it will be like in the future.

    We need to create our own future where human creativity is encouraged and enhanced. Where education gives people the tools to live in a changing world.

    If this is not done, then you probably have the right to run in fear from technology. Run to the hills, and be the last free man on earth, hiding in terror in the caves

    Or you can help make and create the world that avoids the terrors that you see.

    If you do not take control of your future, then your future will be out of your control. Help create a future that is better then the one you see.

  • Oh please.

    I'm for a person's right to work and everything, but don't you think it would be a bit irresponsible to not work on a way for dangerous jobs to be done without cost of human life? We're talking about people who could die. If they die, it won't matter if they spent generations mining. If they continue to live, they'll have plenty of stories to pass down.



  • It might be miners now, but the next thing it will be your job - cleaners, etc. will all be redundant.

    Horrors! People will have to adapt, change, and learn new skills. If you were around early last century, you would have decried the assembly line. Computers are right out, since obviously we put file clerks out of a job; we don't need as many if our records are computerized. Hell, why don't we just burn all the looms and go back to making cloth by hand? After all, think of how many more people we could employ if we did that!

    Where people are necessary, they will be employed. Anytime something like this happens a whole new class of employment is created, after all, someone has to maintain those robots, right? Will people be uprooted and forced to change? Yes. Will they adapt? Undoubtedly. History has taught us that humanity is the most adaptable creature on the planet.

  • by DeadVulcan (182139) <{dead.vulcan} {at} {pobox.com}> on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:40AM (#470054)

    A week or so ago, I saw a program on TV about diamond mining, and how the use of very large machinery has eliminated the possibility of finding very large diamonds any more, because the rock is crushed before being brought to the surface.

    But, if the mining robots were smaller in scale and used smaller digging instruments, larger diamonds (like on the order of tennis ball size), rare as they may be, could have a chance of being recovered whole.

    It's also probable that smaller robots would be able to recover materials much more efficiently and in a much more environmentally friendly way.

    I doubt the economies of scale of current technology will support thousands of tiny robots, or if such robots would be capable of digging through solid rock.

    But it's cool to speculate.

    --

  • What will happen as society worldwide becomes more automated, is what has already happened in the more technologically advanced societies - people will reduce their birthrates to (or slightly below) the natural replacement rate of approx. 2 children per couple. Unless a massive technological singularity takes place (like the rapid development and deployment of a nanotech "replicator") there will be no massive displacement of human labor, just gradual, incremental inroads. With less need for massive amounts of manual labor, fewer people can be more intensively trained & educated, and work in the fewer remaining skilled positions, directing or tasking the automatons. Also, as the pool of "menial" laborers shrinks - even though most tasks can be automated, it will become a "prestige" item to have actual human craftsmanship involved - their wages will increase. Look at how much plumbers, butlers, gardeners, "sanitation engineers" etc. are getting paid nowadays, not to mention artists and athletes, and just extrapolate into the future. Not everybody needs to be programmers, even today. As systems get simpler and more robust more people will be able to use them with minimal formal training (think GUI/speech/gestural recognition, pictures of food on McD's POS terminals, etc.). Plus, look at how fast the current primitive technology has taken hold. When everybody's Grandma is on the 'Net without even blinking, then we'll know it's time to wheel out the fully automated solutions to just about everything.

    #include "disclaim.h"
    "All the best people in life seem to like LINUX." - Steve Wozniak
  • I never thought that I would see a mining related story here on /..

    On the other hand, the pick and shovel operator is often being replaced by silicon chips.

  • More importantly, it's not possible to have long-term standard of living increase at a faster rate than productivity. Every good and service must be produced before it can be consumed, so total consumption can't be greater than total production, and average consumption can't be greater than average production. That means that raising average production per unit of labor (i.e. productivity) is the only way to raise average consumption per unit of labor (i.e. standard of living). It's such a simple concept it's amazing that more people don't understand it.

  • All this technology is taking jobs, but it probably saves many lives.

    I can speak first hand on this subject, as I worked 11 years in an underground mine and experienced many of the perils that exist there with respect to health and safety.

  • I think it is a complete illusion to think that rationalizing mining will enhance the economy enough so that even a limited number of former miners who now face unemployment can find employment elsewhere.

    When you've spent 25 years mining underground only to find yourself replaced by a robot, nobody is going to employ you. We had this effect with automation practically anywhere that things are automated.

    Automation leads to a number of processes getting cheaper, and hence the process owners make substantially more money. This money goes into the economy sooner or later, since obviously they don't hoard it in their hidden vaults that the automated miners have built underground, but it will definitely not serve the victims of automations directly (since they don't get any money), and its overall effect in the economy will not have enough impact to enable all these people to find new, different jobs elsewhere or be trained for them.

    Face facts: Automation replaces people. These people fall through the social grid. A substantial number of these people is never going to have a proper job again. Everything else is either a cheap lie or self-deceit on behalf of the process owners. This is one of the instances where we can actually predict the future from the past.

  • There are other options. First of all, these robots were expensive to create. Thus you can make an arguement that they will end up too expensive and accually cost money in the long run. (Robots didn't help GM in the 70s, though other problems did GM in)

    Or maybe with robots they can profitably mine an area that wasn't worth it before (deep underground, or where the earth has lots of deadly posions leaking into the air)

    Don't forget that there is more then only company with mines, and you can bet all have considered robots, if they are cheaper all the compition is likely on the way to their own robots. Thus prices drop when one realises they can undercut the price, and all are forced to follow.

  • Have you ever been to Sudbury? It's all rock. There are no trees to kill.

    They mine nickel in Sudbury. As for putting miners out of work, how do the miners get to work? They probably drive. Someone has to load, process and transport the materials mined. You're going to need a lot of heavy equipment operators, general laborors, etc. above-ground. I'm willing to bet this robotic mining has actually INCREASED the number of jobs for the industry. What if the machines get stuck? Are they going to send in more machines to get them out? No. People. And I highly doubt the techies will be going into the mine to get the robotic equipment out.

    Furthermore, they're going to need mechanics to fix these things - add that to all the other equipment that needs regular maintenance...

    I read somewhere that contractors lose one worker for every mile of tunnel dug. Better machines than people. If this were the case 30 years ago, I'd still have a grandfather.

  • Actually, most of the soft coal industry has been killed off, so much of West VA is already in ghost town status.

    Western PA is about the same...

  • And just for the obvious reply that my comment is going to generate: when you replace, say, 25 miners by one well-paid process controller, the process controller's job is new, admittedly, but the 25 miners still fall through the grid, or at least the remaining 24 of them who are redundant after one has been made process controller.
  • (What will happen to us programmers when we finally write the A.I. that can do the programming for us?)

    Here's a little quote I found in Knuth, volume 3, p. 583:

    Instruction tables [programs] will have to be made up by mathematicians with computing experience and perhaps a certain puzzle solving ability. There will probably be a great deal of work of this kind to be done, for every known process has got to be translated into instruction table form at some stage. ... This process of constructing instruction tables should be very fascinating. There need be no real danger of it ever becomming a drudge, for any processes that are quite mechanical may be turned over to the machine itself. -- Alan M Turing (1945)

    Process Engineers and AI Computer Scientists are an interesting bunch. Both try all of their lives to make their jobs unnecessary. However, more often than not, they just create more work for themselves.

  • Yes, it will put miners out of work. New technology always puts some people out of work. Far fewer people today are employed as stable hands and farriers (blacksmiths that shoe horses) than before the introduction of the automobile.

    The question is, given that certain jobs will be made obsolete, what should be done about it? If the head honchos at the mining companies are enlightened and benevolent, they will provide job training for the displaced miners. However, if companies' treatment of miners in the past is any indication of things to come, most miners will likely be left to fend for themselves. That is unfortunate. But now that the new technology is here, there's no going back.
  • Uh, I suspect the hard part about mining asteroids is not so much the task of digging. It's not exactly trivial or cheap to get the mined resources from the asteroid to someplace useful, for example Earth.

    What's the matter with:

    1. Wait for a clear line of site to earth

    2. Point ore towards the center of the earth.

    3. Give it a decent push.

    4. Let gravity take over.

    Ohh... You wanted a controlled descent. Never mind.

  • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @08:50AM (#470067) Journal
    then by all means let's not have a human being doing it! I grew up in a mining community in the western U.S. (and have long since left) but I still keep in touch and every once in a while a miner will fall into a crusher, get run over by heavy equipment, get sucked into a conveyor belt etc. Things are much better than they were 50 years ago in terms of safety (thanks to MSHA, OSHA and the unions) but accidents still happen.

    If robots make things safer, then more power to them! I personally cannot justify human beings risking their lives for profits when alteratives exist.

    Where I grew up people know that mechanization is increasing (the mines hire far fewer people than in the past), and so there is a real push for people to either go into the skilled trades or college.

    Times change and people must adapt....
  • It has always seemed like a logical step to make robots and machines power themselves. Any business that uses machines to harvest power should really figure out a way to make the machines use the same power. Then the cycle is closed and--short of machine repair and other such things--you have a self sustaining factory, power plant, mine, whatever.

    The next logical step then, would be to build machines that can repair each other or even better, themselves.

    The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture, and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
    -- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
  • At LKAB [www.lkab.se] (Sweden) they run something like this. It's not completely autonomous, but one operator can control three drilling rigs or three loaders at once. For the loaders, everything except the actual loading of ore is automated, the loading is done via remote control. The drilling rigs can be run without supervision, for example at night. For a short blurb, see this document [www.lkab.se], pages 3 and 4. Not much, but I didn't find a good article.

    There are several advantages with this setup; the miners don't have to go down into the mine, and they can sit in a comfortable office while running the heavy machines. No humans in the mine also means that they can start loading much sooner after a blast, since they don't have to wait for the blast gases to vent out. Which in turn means that the loading machines can be run for more hours per day.

    And, yes, the miners love the system - when they don't have to go down into the mines, they have some spare strength left over at the end of the day to do stuff with their families, not just fall asleep from exhaustion...

  • They can't yet refine and shape metal parts. Wait for the mechanic-replacing robots to be developed. The evil-enhanced versions of these robots can only dig secret tunnels and gather piles of robot raw materials in preparation for the next step...
  • Have you looked at crime trends? They're going up you know.

    Err, yes, actually, I have. Violent crime is down dramatically across the United States, which is the country that has most radically transferred work from manual to automated over the last generation. In Japan, which has been resisting such changes, crime is indeed up. In Europe, which has been resisting such changes less than Japan, but more than in the US, crime is up, but less sharply than it is in Japan.
  • The whole point is to enhance safety by having no humans underground, and to boost productivity by saving the time to travel underground and have one driver controlling a whole fleet.
    ... and, of course, to reduce jobs by eliminating the need for them. Fine and dandy if you're lucky enough to be a smart programmer, not too damned good if you're just a blue collar joe trying to feed your five kids and keep a roof over their heads.
  • you mean little sheep?


  • well Sudbury is one mine, most minig companies are worldwide having mines whereever ore is located. obvioulsy whenever technology is tested and proven in one area it is adapted to otheres. ok and about it not killing jobs. here is a factual account. I simple transport belt line was built to transport ore to the factory from a remote point instead of driving it vie dump truck that one convayer ( about 8 miles long) this negated the need for many drivers who lost there jobs. and ohh yea ll the jobs that this conveyer provided.... cleaning mud from the machinerey. obviously if implimenting a new system envolved having to higher an excess of workers it wouldn't be viable.
  • My wife lost her father in a coal mine when she was 8. This is a good thing.

    -Jason
  • Close ? Robotic Lawnmower [friendlymachines.com]
  • I'm for a person's right to work and everything, but don't you think it would be a bit irresponsible to not work on a way for dangerous jobs to be done without cost of human life? We're talking about people who could die. If they die, it won't matter if they spent generations mining. If they continue to live, they'll have plenty of stories to pass down.
    Don't give up too much to the previous poster here. Yes, one has has a right to work (or IMHO do most anything else he pleases, assuming that work does not infringe on someone else's rights). However, this in no way creates an obligation on anyone else to provide useful work for him to do. Nor does it obligate anyone else to refrain from finding better ways to do the work he does, effectively making his current work unneeded.

    Be careful when talking about rights...they are slippery beasts. Many people carelessly overstate the rights we actually have.

  • But, if the mining robots were smaller in scale and used smaller digging instruments, larger diamonds (like on the order of tennis ball size), rare as they may be, could have a chance of being recovered whole.

    What use is a tennis ball sized diamond? Nice to look at I suppose, but unless you're putting together a set of Crown Jewels (and most of those nasty regressive monarchies have already ripped off enough to have their own) what else can you do with them? Use 'em as big, heavy rocks to throw at folks' heads?

    Gonna look bloody silly on an engagement ring too.

  • And no-one, but no-one uses machinery unless it reduces staff numbers.

    Hate to burst your bubble, but they're not using more machinery - they've just enabled teleoperation of the normal machinery that the mine has always been using. No reduced staff number.

    They take a scoop - a very large machine with a big-ass scoop on the front - and add a shitload of hardware (and software - sadly, Windows-based I believe) to it, and thereby enable the operator to drive from the surface, instead of from within the machine in a dark, dusty, rocky, stagnant, hot atmophere.

    Oh, and something more... by not using operators down in the mine for these machines, they don't have to take the 20 minute (one-way) elevator ride down to the machine, hike to it, and then work, hike back to the elevator, and back up to the surface. I'd guess they'd get an extra hour's work per shift out of every machine they do this to, and not at the worker's expense. They get their breaks and lunch, but the transit time between the operator and the machine is reduced thanks to teleoperation!

    Mr. Ska

    I slit a sheet
    A sheet I slit

  • This wonderful technology windfall that has resulted in many of us enjoying six figure salaries before we're even 30 is certainly grand and wonderful for those of us on the take, but let's take a look around and see what it has done to the rest of the world around us. In every hi-tech city (The Valley, Austin, Atlanta, SoCal, et al) land-prices have skyrocketed while median incomes have stayed below $30k. For everyone of us who can afford to survive in the 'new economy', there are dozens and dozens just barely scraping by.

    We whine about how bad Microsoft is and how Linux will 'save the world' and how the future exists entirely around the 'Net and blah blah blah but *reality check* people, most of the US and the world's population could care less about MS, Linux, the Net, and whatever else is being spouted on about on /. as the answer to all the world's ills.

    I'm sick of technology. I wish it would go away, sometimes. I really do. It's kewl and fun and all that but it's a cancer on our world. It's wiped out entire civilizations and thousands of animal species, it has dehumanized the remaining cultures, it has trashed and polluted the environment, and it has made our lives incredibly complicated and demanding.

  • "We need these jobs."

    Tangent: Since when did mech. eng. and the various trades associated with hard rock mining become staffed completely by idiots? Or do you just not know what you're talking about?

    I love this guy's post. None of the explanations suggesting that "we need these jobs" are consistent with recorded history. Also, the poster doesn't seem to be interested in supporting anything with sourced evidence, or any evidence at all, for that matter.

    "That is why crime has risen in the last 30 years - young, stupid men can no longer find employment, and so they are alienated from society."

    Would that also be why the labour force participation rate in the US has gone from ~59.2% (1966) to ~67% (1996), the employment to population ratio has gone from 56.9% (1966) to 63.2% (1996), and the unemployment rate displays only a slight upward trend (3.8% in 1966, 5.4% in 1996, having gone into the high 9% range in the early 80s)?

    All stats are from here [www.csls.ca], because I happened to have it bookmarked.

    Poster: I suggest you take a macroeconomics class at some point, if you have the time to spare.

  • I seem to remember people making the same argument against computers...
  • Robotic mining is fine in an environment where you're mining things you really can't expose human workers to. However...

    What's really more cost effective in the long run? These bad boys are going to cost a few million bucks each and the great majority of industrial robotics aren't subjected to the extreme environments that these auto-spelunkers would. How much is the total cost of ownership going to turn out to be, versus the cost of a crew of meat-constructed miners?

    I think in the case of manual labor in a non dangerous environment that isn't robotically friendly (dirty, hot, wet...) you'll find that meat=cheap and steel=expensive.
  • Hint: Hard rock mining of any kind is much less dangerous than coal mining. Not that it's completely danger free, though.
  • What use is a tennis ball sized diamond?

    Yeah, I guess I agree...

    But then again, I'm reminded of the famous quote from some engineer, who asked, about the microchip:

    "But what... is it good for??"

    --

  • Have you looked at crime trends? They're going up you know.

    According to the Department of Justice [usdoj.gov] they're going down and are currently at the lowest levels in over 20 years. I'm curious where you got the idea they're going up. If you have data to back up that claim I would like to see it.

    And no-one, but no-one uses machinery unless it reduces staff numbers.

    Nobody uses machinery unless it increases profits. Reducing staff is a good way to cut expenses, but if you can increase productivity with the same staff you can also increase profits, often way more than offsetting the costs of automation. The "computer revolution" is a good example of this. When computers first came out many feared it would put lots of people (accountants, for example) out of work. Not only do we still need the bean counters, but now we also need people to maintain the machines those bean counters use.

    Miners already use machinery for their jobs. Automation in a mine means the miners will spend less time underground in a dangerous environment. Better machinery means each miner can produce more ore than before, (hopefully) at less risk to life and limb.
  • 1 l1k`ez karma
  • by Anonymous Coward
    That is the same nonsensical claptrap that has been blowing out of paranoid people's blowholes since the printing press. Look at every time a new computer, gadget, etc, that comes along and you find this. Coming from a mining background, I have to say, blow it out your arse. That is dangerous low paying work, and if I could get a safer job running maintenance, controlling, or programming these guys I would jump on it. You also forget, my simple minded friend, that this will merely shift jobs not eliminate them. These things aren't self replicating you know! Someone has got to design, build and test them.

    I suppose you think then that we should do away with cotton gins and go back to manual labor. Sure it will cost more (meaning less pay per worker), sure it will be slower (meaning even less pay per worker) and of course it is hot, sweaty work in an environment ripe with opportunity to get injured or sick (meaning paying what you get to the doctor). Hell, lets bring back slavery! ALL OF IT! Indians, Africans, Irish, Scottish, Asians anyone we don't think is up to our standards.

  • i hear we get robot farmers and robot scientists with these robot miners
  • void digHoleToChina()
    {
    &nbsp&nbsplocomotion.changePitch( STRAIGHT_DOWN );
    &nbsp&nbspwhile( sensors.detectRock( IN_FRONT ) )
    &nbsp&nbsp{
    &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspdrill.crushRock( IN_FRONT );
    &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsplocomotion.move( FORWARD );
    &nbsp&nbsp}
    }
  • Hate to burst your bubble, but they're not using more machinery - they've just enabled teleoperation of the normal machinery that the mine has always been using

    You mean that miners are telecomuting? What IS this world coming to.
  • Someone needs to apply these ideas to the fishing industry in order to prevent the huge number of unnecesary human deaths that happen on a daily basis throughout the world. Take for example some older stats from the United Kingdom alone:

    "In 1995-96 there were 77 fatal injuries per 100,000 fishermen, making it the most dangerous occupation by a significant margin (the next closest was mining and quarrying at 23.2 per 100,000)".

    You can read more about the huge safety problem in the fishing industry here [ilo.org].

  • I agree with this, though I think we have enough minerals currently, we need to find a way to gather energy resources this way. In light of the current energy crisis, finding new sources of energy quickly and cheaply and safely is required. I just hope we don't find new energy and then get lax with our conservation efforts.
  • Normally I would agree with this viewpoint. However, mining has always been among the world's deadliest professions, usually the occupation of slaves in the ancient world. I don't see why it's such a great thing now that people have "jobs" doing work that used to be considered unfit for free people to do. I think this is one of the best possible uses of robot technology. A contrast is mechanized farming, which puts people out of work, destroys the land, and produces lower-quality food. Robotic mining, on the other hand, has the potential to do a better, safer job of mining. I would think that it might also serve as a good alternative to more destructive techniques such as strip mining (although I don't know enough about mining to say if this is really true).

    -N
  • Uh... Generally speaking, companies tend to comply with whatever environmental legislation is in force. If your government is willing to sell out to corporations over environmental damage, perhaps you should find a new one.

    "there goes any potential jobs health insurance or possible training for local communities"

    But there would still be taxation revenue and use royalties, obviously, which can be put to those uses.

    Hint: If you punctuate properly, I might be able to figure out what you're saying. E.g. is "there heavy equipment" part of a run-on sentence, or did you just use the wrong "there"?

  • I think you're referring to a practice called "strip mining" which is ecologically atrocious. I believe these robots are designed for deep mining. Strip mining should indeed be stopped everywhere possible. I agree with your point.
  • Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,
    Mata ah-oo hima de
    Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,
    Himitsu wo shiri tai
    ________________________________
  • I can see what this will lead to. Bots will start going berserk, infected and all that. Then, some Dravis guy will send me to cleansweep the infected mines again, in a PyroGL.

    DejaVu?
  • Thus prices drop when one realises they can undercut the price, and all are forced to follow.

    I can follow that... That's why when one airline cuts fares, all the others cut fares...

    But why is the converse also true? For example, when one soda company (Coke) raised prices a while back, the other big soda company (Pepsi) announced that they were raising prices as well.

    How does that make sense?
  • Yeah, lets go back to making every product we use ourselves. And about "stupid" men. How come crime hasn't risen in Europe the same way as in America?

    Answer: Good education should be available to everybody, not just the well-off white americans.

  • Um what? Have you failed to notice the last 8 years of prosperity? Have you failed to notice the lowest unemployment numbers in history? Do your realize why?

    Expansion of any economy happens only 1 way, investment. This investment has to be in human resources, or in technology. The great prosperity of the last 8 to 10 years is almost certainly attributed to the computer revolution. With computers we are able to get more real work done, period. More work getting done means that people have more real wealth. More real wealth means people can have more. That is good right?

    Anyone that says advances in technology that "replace" workers will hurt them is only right in the short term, and then its a tenuous thread. When a business does well because its saving money, it employs more people to do other jobs to try and earn even more money.

    Also for you liberals out there, if there is more real money in the system, more taxes will be collected and there will be more money for the social programs that provide for the people that don't have jobs.

    All in all I think this development has real potential to make life better in a lot of ways. Miners will not have to risk thier lives for a small amount of money. The cost of resources will be reduced. The economy will grow and allow us to push for new and more wonderful technological developements, like hopefully a solution to our energy crisis.

  • there are a lot of people out there who aren't intelligent enough to be computer programmers or whatever

    Don't worry -- there are alot of computer programmers who aren't intelligent enough to be computer programmers, but it didn't stop them from getting good jobs.
  • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @09:32AM (#470103) Homepage
    For everyone of us who can afford to survive in the 'new economy', there are dozens and dozens just barely scraping by.

    I suppose you'd rather go back to everyone being sustenance farmers living one bad harvest away from starvation? There's a very good reason why a mere 3% of the US population can easily produce enough food for the rest of us. I'll give you a hint; it's that T-word that you seem to abhor so much.

    I'm sick of technology. I wish it would go away, sometimes.

    You want technology to go away? Fine. Go live in a cave in the middle of fscking nowhere so you needn't be bothered by such evils like running water. Demand that everyone with you have an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years, since modern medicine is anathema. Any children born to your family can have a survival rate on par with the toss of a coin. Have fun eeking out a living, hunter-gatherer style.

    But do not even think to tell me that I have to join you.

    --

  • Why would they do that when they can cut prices, mantain profit margins while boosting sales and productivity.

    Most mined materials are commodities and are traded as such. What is important to mining companies is their price per unit. The demand for what they produce is not very elastic. If they produce twice as much, they may only be able to sell it for half as much, because flooding the market is bad.

    Take for example, food. If a unit of food was half its current price, would you buy twice as much? Obviously not. (This, by the way, is why the government pays subsidies to farmers to not grow food)

    If you produce too much of something you create a glut and render it worthless.

    They may be able to mine things cheaper, but you can bet that they won't mine significantly more.

    If savings are to be had from these, it'll be from reducing the steps that need to be taken to make it safe for humans to be in a mine. Prices may come down a bit, but the savings, if there are any, will go into salaries, acquistions, and to shareholders.


    --
  • It's interesting that I just finished reading one of the Dorsai books, Necromancer over the weekend, and the top of that was a mine which operated with only 1 person running the whole schebang!

    Of course the antagonist lost his arm, and assisted in the general downfall of civilization as they knew it... D'oh! (Who sees a Simpson's parody of Necromancer with Ned Flanders as World Controller?)

    But seriously, this raises a whole pile of issues of what to do with all these people who one day will be out of jobs? Some people might look at it and see the demise of human miners and lost jobs.

    Personally, I see eventual adoption of robotic miners as miners begin to retire. It's dirty, thankless work, and it's a killer! A friend of mine (no pun intended - honest) has a father who's worked in the Sudbury mines all his life. He knows no other work, but admits that it's tough!

    As more robots come into use, there will be more jobs and opportunities in geology, robotic repair, etc... No lost jobs just like I don't work 20 hour weeks thanks to the fact that everybody in my office has a computer. There'll be work, and plenty of it - just perhaps less risky.

  • by cybermage (112274) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @09:40AM (#470109) Homepage Journal
    Once more, properly formatted:

    Why would they do that when they can cut prices, mantain profit margins while boosting sales and productivity.

    Most mined materials are commodities and are traded as such. What is important to mining companies is their price per unit. The demand for what they produce is not very elastic.

    If they produce twice as much, they may only be able to sell it for half as much, because flooding the market is bad.

    Take for example, food. If a unit of food was half its current price, would you buy twice as much? Obviously not. (This, by the way, is why the government pays subsidies to farmers to not grow food)

    If you produce too much of something you create a glut and render it worthless.

    They may be able to mine things cheaper, but you can bet that they won't mine significantly more.

    If savings are to be had from these, it'll be from reducing the steps that need to be taken to make it safe for humans to be in a mine. Prices may come down a bit, but the savings, if there are any, will go into salaries, acquistions, and to shareholders.

    --
  • It depends on what drives the price increase.

    I work for a company that uses a petroleum product as the primary raw material in their products, as do all of our competitors. Since crude prices have skyrocketed we had to announce a price increase last year to cover those costs. All of our competitors folowed suit within 2 months, no one wanted to be the first to do it but eventually someone had to.

    Grab a book on Game Theory that is geared toward a macroeconomics or business class, it will explain the thinking behind the often moronic decisions a lot of companies make.

  • I worked as a heavy equipment operator in college (wheeled loaders, backhoes, graders) and I have been wondering when someone would do this. Operating earthmoving equipment and the like via remote control (I am assuming that this is what they are doing - the site was /. 'ed when I tried to view it) would eliminate a lot of on-the-job possibility for injuries, both traumatic (crushing, falls, etc.) and long-term (back or hearing problems). It would also reduce operator stress (no more sore kidneys, working with an open cab in 120 deg. F weather and lots of dust, etc.).
    All in all, automation of jobs like this is the best thing to happen to the related trade and tradesmen. When you work in a physically stressful environment and come home exhausted many days, going to class or otherwise furthering your education is a rather difficult thing to do. By making these jobs less stressful, I would think that the net effect would be to encourage the quality of life of the workers.

    As for job loss, people are almost infinitely adaptable. Most of the operators or other trades could be retrained to either work as operators or as support personnel. Many of those who work in the trades don't do so because they're "too stupid to work elsewhere" but because they learn differently than how the school system says they should, or they just enjoy their trade.

    The majority of tradespeople that I have worked with have readily adapted to technological innovation in the workplace (they're usually better with it than managers, etc. are...) and would gladly welcome something that would make their jobs easier.
  • >1. Wait for a clear line of site to earth
    > 2. Point ore towards the center of the earth.
    > 3. Give it a decent push.
    > 4. Let gravity take over.

    Actually, that's exactly what happened! The Sudbury nickel deposit is the result of an impact; the whole basin is an impact crater.

    (So technically, we now have robots mining the asteroid belt! Woo-hoo! ;)

  • Coke only announced the price increase because they didn't worry about people defecting to Pepsi. If Pepsi (or RC or Shasta) thought that with a lower price they could get people to drink their product over coke they would lower their prices. Accually Shasta is lower, but nobody drinks it, even though the taste is just as aweful. (Can you tell that I don't like cola?)

    The other posters have points too.

  • I'm surprised how many people are concerned about reducing employment in underground mining, which is one of the worst working environments in industry. Actually, underground mining employment is way down; it peaked sometime around WWII. Miners today are heavy machinery operators, not manual laborers. This changeover produced massive unemployment in mining districts like West Virginia and the Midlands of England. Robotic mining will eliminate only a modest number of mining jobs, because there aren't that many mining jobs left.
  • Not to be a luddite, but you bastards! I used to make up to AUD$5000 a week after tax operating a jumbo in UG mines in Australia.

    I actually have really mixed feelings about this. We usually killed 6 or 7 people a year (in an industry directly employing around 10,000), and several people I'd worked with (and one good friend) were on that list. Anything that improves safety is a good thing. It might also have some positive impacts environmentally - shift the cost break-point between UG and open cut towards UG, making for a few less topsoil-stripping open cuts. Just as much cyanide etc pollution in processing the ore either way though.

    OTOH, mining was what allowed me (and a lot of other people) to finish school, go to college, and get into my current job (which pays a fraction of what I used to earn, but isn't 13 days a fortnight in a hole in the ground in the middle of the desert : ). Drill holes for 6 months, walk away with $30k in the bank (even after spending half of the last six months drunk), do another year or two of college, repeat. Mining is one of the very few occupations left in the west where poorly educated kids get a chance to get the fuck out of dead-endsville. Great steaming piles of cash - you either get an education, get some real assets, or both. Beats the shit out of flipping burgers for the rest of your life as a consequence of never makeing it out of high school.

    So here's to the beginning of the end. A few less of us getting mashed against the pit wall; a lot more of us ending up stuck in low-pay, low-opportunity dead end jobs. Such is life.
  • by Tekmage (17375) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @11:31AM (#470140) Homepage

    If you're curious about how they actually get the bandwidth down into the mines, check out this company I did some design work for a few years back:

    El-Equip Inc. [el-equip.com]

  • by thex23 (206256) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @11:49AM (#470142) Homepage
    I remember Sudbury fondly. The Big Nickle. I spent a couple of years there as a kid (like 5 or 6 years old). A few interesting things:

    • Sudbury is in a giant impact crater: everything is rock
    • they recently built an observatory down one of the old mines looking for evidence of neutrino interactions and proton decay
    • The surrounding terrain is so bleak they used to bring Apollo astronauts there to train (that's the Canadian Shield for ya)
    • every night, a little train would dump molten slag on a heap. I could see it frommy house, and it was really beautiful watching it spill down the slope in reds and oranges, with little flames here and there
    • Sudbury had (has?) a giant smokestack that was designed to put the crap so high up that nobody around the city would complain... just everyone else downwind
    • I went on a tour of an Inco mine, and got really creeped out by the "miner" mannequins and low ceilings.
    • I broke my leg when I hit a rock while sledding at my friend Neil's place on Kingcora Court. I had to drag myself across the street because my babysitter wouldn't carry a screaming 6 year old. Later that year, I filled my mom's AMC Gremlin's gas tank with water (I had a hose in my hand and asked her if she wanted a "fill up"... She said sure. I guess she wasn't paying attention.)
    • Subdury had a lot of beavers, and there was a controversy around dynamiting their dams back in the day
    • there are only two careers of interest in Sudbury (according to the movie Road Kill): hockey player or mass murderer.

    We thieves, we liars, we vandals, and poets. Networked agents of Cthulhu Borealis.
  • by jabber01 (225154) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @11:51AM (#470143)
    The obvious response to this is 'how do we get it back to Earth?', and while this is a valid question, it's extremely near-sighted.

    Earth has adequate resources for terrestrial needs. (See where I'm going?) But, if we were to ever build anything in space, or on the moon, then we would have to carry materials to the construction site. (Now you see where I'm going.)

    Mining asteroids would make plentiful raw materials available more cheaply. Have you priced the cost of lifting a pound of aluminium into orbit? With the realistic prospect of asteroid mining, all we would have to do is launch and assemble a refining/manufacturing plant into space.

    Once there, if cleverly managed, it could be used to make whatever we need. It's the old 'teach a man to fish' approach. Once we can process raw materials in space, the cost of lifting a refinery there would be recovered very quickly.

    An orbiting (or travelling) refinery could make all sorts of interesting alloys that we can not make on Earth. It could make replacement parts as necessary, or build new pieces not thought of at the beginning of a mission. It could even make better use of physics to shape parts in new ways (rotation, acceleration). Such 'natural' shapes, created under gravitationally controlled conditions, just might prove to have very desirable properties.

    A space-bourne refinery could be nuclear-powered without the risks of killing people or polluting the environment. It could use focused sunlight to weld parts together. Several small plants might be assembled together to make very large assemblies that we could never hoist into space (Spacedock?) from the Earth.

    Gutted asteroids might become the fuselages of future spaceships, with the engines and such structures built from the materials dug out of that asteroid.

    Ultimately, the point is that anything, anything at all, that gets us out there, is a Good Thing. If robotic mining and the greed for asteroid-dug diamonds is what prompts the first step, so be it.

    The REAL jabber has the /. user id: 13196

  • by Dannon (142147) on Tuesday January 30, 2001 @12:00PM (#470145) Journal
    I'm sick of technology. I wish it would go away, sometimes. I really do.

    I've been reading a very good book recently, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, by Samuel Florman... and he addresses the growing trend of antitechnology, and refutes many claims associated with this trend. I'd have to quote three full chapters just to sum up his arguements, but I wouldn't hesitate to put it on my list of 'recommended reading'.

    The thing is, technology is not likely to 'go away'. To begin with, it's a gross personification to treat technology as a thing with a will of its own. It can seem that way, to be sure... but every unforseen result of technology can be traced to a human-made decision, or series of decisions.

    I belive it is an aspect of human nature to experiment, to explore, and to create. In a way, Philosophy, Art, Science, and Engineering are all efforts to fulfill a fundamental human impulse. I am attending school to become an Engineer... but at the same time, I consider myself a part-time Philosopher, Artist, and Scientist.

    The 'solution' proposed by most antitechnologists does involve deliberately changing human nature. But such proposals are dangerous. How do we know that we are not 'dehumanizing' ourselves even further?

    ---
  • Everyone seems to be saying how wonderful it is that people won't have to work such horrible jobs. Think of this, if the miners could find a better job they would take it, right? Obviously they can't do better and when you eliminate their jobs, what the hell are they supposed to do? I'm sure mining sucks, I'm sure working in a sweatshop sucks, but they don't HAVE to be there, they are there because they need the money to support themselves. These companies make enough money that they don't absolutely have to fuck their workers so they can move to automated mining. A job mining is better than no job.
  • I noticed a lot of people asking about the miners, and what would happen to them as the mines become automated. Let me add my own slant to the discussion.

    Don't get me wrong on the issue of socialism; I dream of a social state, but I think the workers of the world are moving away from actual production. While I consider myself a producer when I write computer code, it's not quite the same as having a tangible object in my hands, of which I can say, "Look, I made this." Those jobs that technology continues to render obsolete are by-and-large those jobs that require repetitive tasks and little in the way of deep thought.

    I predict we will see workers moving away from manufacturing and resource gathering and into fields such as maintaining systems (making sure the little robots are working), organizing systems (decided where to open the new mine) and service (getting coffee for the other two groups).

    The automated mines are a good step in the right direction, IMHO. Let our race move away from doing basic labor and start thinking more!

    Prepare for ascent!

  • Heh heh, well it was back in '96 that I worked on the system. :-)

    Interesting to see how things have changed since; thanks for the update.

    the robominer solution [robominer.com]

  • You can get quite a few drill bits out of that, as a last resort. :P

    "If ignorance is bliss, may I never be happy.
  • True, the capability for 'happiness' hasn't increased any. Happiness is a highly subjective thing, and different people naturally experience different amounts of it. People tell me that I'm a naturally 'happy' person, that I smile all the time. I know people who frown just as frequently.

    On the other hand, I would think it safe to say that technology has increased the overall comfort level of our society. Comfort and Happiness aren't the same (else, I wouldn't find camping even in the most miserable of conditions so enjoyable).

    What this increase in comfort level does for us, in theory, is give us more time to spend in the 'pursuit of happiness', to take the phrase from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The pursuit does not necessarily guarantee the attainment of happiness, as I've mentioned... nor is technological advancement altogether necessary for this pursuit.

    ---
  • Yeah there was this guy who said basically the same thing about the industrial revolution, his name was Karl Marx,

    You've never read one single word of Marx, have you? He in fact said the exact opposite about the Industrial Revolution.

"But this one goes to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel

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