Cambrian College partners with a technology 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 using Microsoft’s Hololens 2 to allow a miner to work at a safe distance from the face of a mine. Cambrian’s applied research division will help design a bracket so that the system can be attached to a miner’s helmet.

The mine face is the end of a drift, or horizontal tunnel, that a miner would normally prepare for blasting. They would drill holes in the rock wall and insert explosives.

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

“The underground mining face is one of the most dangerous places because it’s under a lot of stress as it adjusts to being in that open void. So there’s a risk of rocks bursting, ground collapsing, and that can hurt or kill someone,” said Matthew Brown, general manager of NSS Canada.

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

But when they developed their system they ran into a problem: there was no way to securely attach it to a hull designed for underground mining.

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

“We’ve looked high and low and decided this was something we couldn’t buy and couldn’t really develop in-house on our own,” Brown said.

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

A man in a blue helmet and orange overalls underground.
Mike Commito, director of applied research and innovation at Cambrian College, says the school makes it a priority to get students involved in research and development projects. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Mike Commito, Cambrian’s director of applied research and innovation, said they have given NSS Canada access to students and experts who can help design a mount that meets all safety requirements.

Comito said it’s important to engage students so they gain real-world experience.

“This is a real problem that NSS has identified,” he said.

“So if we can allow our students to help them through that challenge and eventually come up with a solution, that’s great for NSS because they can meet their goal of innovation. But the student gets that experience, too.”

Matteo Neville, a mechatronics and engineering technology student at Cambrian College, was one of the students brought on board to help design the stand.

“I have a little bit of experience doing some freeform models,” he said. “So they thought the project was a good fit for me.”

Neville said that he wants to focus on research and development after he graduates.

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

“And I really like new technology, so it’s great to be able to see and work on new technology.”

The project to design the custom support will start in September. Cambrian has said that he expects a first prototype to be ready two months after that.

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