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News in Science
A guardian angel for miners
Australian scientists have developed a powerful new communication system to regularly monitor the location and health of miners underground.
The Location and Monitoring for Personal Safety System or LAMPS, was designed by a research team at CSIRO to support search and rescue operations and improve response time in emergencies. Underground staff are equipped with a personal transponder embedded in their cap-lamp kit that transmits information identifying the staff member, location and vital health signs to nearby wireless beacons every 100 seconds. The system can also raise the alarm when concentrations of methane rise above safe limits.
Alarms systems activate when staff location updates are missing or there is other relevant alarm information such as high temperature or gas levels. In an emergency, the response team can communicate with underground staff about safe exit routes by displaying messages on fixed beacons or personal transponders.
Team member, Dr Garry Einicke, said CSIRO developed LAMPS following the enquiry into the Moura No.2 underground coal mine tragedy in 1994. “The Moura disaster was attributed to an explosion of methane gas. During the crisis the health and location of underground staff was unknown,” he says.
The communication system is a large network of wireless beacons distributed throughout the underground mine. The beacons can transmit information to its destination over a variety of parallel communication paths that are part of the network.
“A world-first, LAMPS is revolutionary because it does not depend on a central communications backbone or hub for communications,” said Einecke. “If one part of the network is damaged through explosions, roof falls, fires or cave-ins, the rest of the network is still usable and the message can get through”.
The first version of LAMPS was successfully tested in underground metal mines like the Gympie Eldorado gold mine and the Mount Isa Enterprise copper mine. Further engineering development is required to meet full safety standards for underground coal
CSIRO scientists, Dr David Dekker and Dr Mike Gladwin conceived and patented the LAMPS technology and are now in the market for a commercial partner to market the technology.