Sudbury

North Bay company ready to deploy its mine rescue drone

The future of underground mine rescue comes in a tiny package, and one North Bay, Ont., company plans to be at the forefront of a technological revolution that could save lives.

SafeSight Exploration has developed a drone that works underground in mine rescue situation

A technician sets up a mine rescue drone from North Bay's SafeSight Exploration. (Supplied by SafeSight Exploration)

The future of underground mine rescue comes in a tiny package, and one North Bay, Ont., company plans to be at the forefront of a technological revolution that could save lives.

SafeSight Exploration has developed a new drone specifically adapted to operate in underground mine rescue situations, where debris and smoke can obstruct rescuers.

"Our goal as a company is essentially to use technology to keep workers out of harm's way," said Mike Campigotto, SafeSight Exploration's president. 

"This protects the rescuer and in minutes they can assess location and access areas that would probably take hours or be inaccessible in the current situation so they can then create a well-crafted recovery or rescue plan."

Over the last three years, Campigotto said, his company has invested millions of dollars into the drone underground environment.

One challenge operating a drone underground is it cannot rely on the global positioning system (GPS), as is common for most consumer and commercial models.

Instead, SafeSight's drones use photographic sensors and a laser to get their bearings and build a three-dimensional map of their surroundings. 

Campigotto said his company's drones are ready to be deployed to mine sites around the world. But they continue to improve the technology.

SafeSight Exploration's mine rescue drone in action. (Supplied by SafeSight Exploration)

A new technology for mine rescue

While operating mines have been using drones for several years to map out sites, for example, their use in mine rescue situations is much newer, said Ted Hanley, vice-president of Ontario Mine Rescue.

Hanley said a rescue scenario presents a more challenging environment in which to operate a drone, because there are many unknowns, and smoke, fire and debris can impede their sensors.

He said he is only aware of one situation so far, where a drone was used during an underground mine rescue operation. A Philadelphia-based company, Exyn Technologies, developed a drone that was used during a mine rescue in Ghana.

But Hanley said Mine Rescue Ontario is ready to deploy a drone, necessary for any future emergency in the province.

"It has not been used for those purposes in Ontario, somewhat thankfully," he said. "We don't wish for those circumstances to occur, but there are a few UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) providers that we're in contact with."

Hanley said drones are most useful as a tool to gather information. 

"So the UAV or any robotic technology that's unmanned, being able to inspect an area during an emergency is potentially bringing us back that missing percentage of information that can allow us to make a safe decision on whether to send or not send rescuers into an area."

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