JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) - An early warning and monitoring system developed by a group of young data science students could potentially assist South African mines in creating a safer working environment.
The students who developed the Rock Pulse system are part of a group participating in the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement (DSIDE) programme, which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The DSIDE programme is aimed at building capacity in data science by recruiting students to participate in learn-by-doing problem solving to meet real-world needs. About 50 students from across the country were recruited in this year's programme, which has trained 141 students since its inception in 2014.
Projects under the DSIDE initiative are currently on display at the DST's premises.
The department explains that Rock Pulse works by collecting data in real-time, underground, using a geophone connected to a roof bolt in a mineshaft. Algorithms then interpret the data to identify triggers or potentially hazardous events, eventually setting off an alarm initiating the evacuation of the affected sections of the mine.
The students who developed the dashboard - Nicolene Roux, Boitumelo Mahlobo and Clodita Mandlazi - confirmed that the technology has reached a level of confidence, which assures its validity, but that improvements are still needed.
"When designing the dashboard, we realised that the technology could not differentiate between a manmade and a non-manmade sound. This is where it needs to improve, because you don't want a false trigger negatively affecting a mine's production," said Roux, who spent three years underground during her geology studies.
CSIR business unit Meraka Institute's Embedded Intelligent Systems unit research group leader John Isaacs believes the system is a step in the right direction to replace old technologies currently in use, especially considering that South Africa's mines need robust technologies to be able to improve working conditions.
The ultimate goal, he adds, is that the system should be able to inform future planning, identify risks and define the shortest exit paths in cases of evacuation.