Can mines become more efficient – and safe – through tech? Robots, drones and virtual reality tools are now being used for sophisticated drilling operations.
The mining industry has been pivotal to the economy of South Africa for many years, but the current climate is tough.
Investor confidence in the sector is waning, with the country’s mines struggling in the face of a declining economy and regulatory uncertainty. The industry used to contribute almost a fifth of the country’s GDP, but this contribution has been declining by about 0.2% per year.
In the meantime, input costs are rising, with the end result being an almost 50% decline in investor profits, while dividends have fallen by more than half. As a result, employment has fallen. In the gold mining sector, for example, almost 50,000 jobs have been lost since 2009. In a bid to make the sector more efficient and increase margins, mining firms are turning to tech.
The old technologies – pneumatic drills and the like – being employed by individual miners are slowly being phased out. Robots, drones and virtual reality are the new order of the day.
At Kumba Iron Ore, one of the largest producers of iron ore globally, drilling is going high-tech. Whereas miners used to sit for up to eight hours at a time on a truck-sized machine, drilling holes in which to place explosives, now they can do it from the comfort of an office. Kumba is one of only two iron ore mining firms globally to have started using autonomous drills.
The decision to use this drill was a response to the volatility of the commodities market. Investing in tech, the company believed, would make its operations more efficient.
Between 2014 and 2017, Kumba has spent R748 million (about $52.5 million) on the implementation of new technologies.
Drones took flight over its Kolomela mine in South Africa’s Northern Cape province in December 2015, and Kumba now has a fleet of 10. Fitted with state-of-the-art cameras and laser scanners, they have taken over drilling operations, as well as providing up-to-date, real-time data on the mine’s operations. Surveyors are safer as they do not need to physically visit sites.
“The technology projects are aimed at creating safer work environments by removing people from harmful environments, improving productivity through the implementation of real time, efficient solutions that results in driving down costs and maximizing the utilization of current and future resources in order to remain competitive in the long-term through the development of low-grade beneficiation technology,” says Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Technology Manager at Kumba Iron Ore.
The results have been impressive, with Kumba’s productivity rising dramatically. Operating hours are up by 20%, according to Ntsoelengoe, while drill hole quality has improved and the company will need fewer drilling machines over the mine’s lifetime. Not only have efficiencies and production improved, driving down operating costs, the mines are also safer.
“Benchmarking studies have shown that South African mining industry has lagged behind in the adoption of technology until recently,” Ntsoelengoe said.
That is slowly changing. Another mining giant becoming increasingly tech-savvy is Rio Tinto, which has the largest fleet of driverless trucks in the industry.
These trucks are remotely controlled from a state-of-the-art operations center 1,500 kilometers away, and hauled one billion tonnes of ore in February alone.
Rio Tinto is also establishing the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long-distance rail network, and is the first mining company to achieve fully-automated hole pattern drilling without human intervention. Its iron ore business currently operates seven fully autonomous rigs for drilling production blast holes.
“Our Autonomous Drill System enables a single operator from a remote location to operate up to four autonomous drill rigs simultaneously. This technology is much safer for the operator and has improved both precision and equipment utilization,” says Stephen McIntosh, Rio Tinto’s Group Executive, Growth & Innovation.
Meanwhile, 3D visualization technology RTV delivers real-time 3D models of ore deposits located far beneath the surface that previously couldn’t be measured.
“This enables more accurate drilling and blasting, reduced explosive use and better waste classification,” says McIntosh.
Like Kumba, Rio Tinto is also improving its data collection through tech. Its Mine Automation System (MAS) allows it to combine myriad streams of data to deliver operational insights in real-time to step up productivity performance.
“It helps give us a better understanding of what grade is where before we mine and is a powerful resource to drive productivity improvements from mine to market,” says McIntosh.
Meanwhile, the environment is also benefitting.
Rio Tinto has launched the world’s first certified low CO2 aluminium, RenewAl, and cutting-edge AP smelting technology, which reduces electricity use and lowers emissions.
“As we look to develop more mines at greater depths, we’re using technology to keep people safe – such as sensors to monitor conditions, autonomous vehicles to haul ore, and complex ventilation systems to create a comfortable working environment,” says McIntosh.
He says Rio Tinto’s early adoption of automation was across the board, helping it drive productivity, lower costs and increase safety. This was the direction in which the industry is headed, he says, with more mines likely to jump on board and invest in tech in the future. This could help pull the whole industry out of the doldrums.
“As an industry, we have achieved incredible things through scaling and ever refining known technologies,” says McIntosh.
– By Tom Jackson
The Nearly $2 Million Aston Martin Valhalla Is A Gift From The Gods
Proving, again, there is often truth to rumor, Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer confirmed that the previously code-named Aston Martin AM-RB-003 s hypercar will be officially called Valhalla, continuing with the manufacturer’s Norse god naming theme.
“Norse mythology contains such powerful language and rich storytelling it felt only right that the AM-RB 003 should follow the Valkyrie’s theme,” Palmer told reporters.
“For those fortunate enough to own one I’m sure they will recognize and appreciate the name’s connotations of glory and happiness, for there can be few more hallowed places than the driver’s seat of an Aston Martin Valhalla.”
Joining the stunning Valkyrie and extreme Valkyrie AMR Pro, the all-new gift from the gods will compete for bragging rights with the likes of the Ferrari LaFerrari and the McLaren Senna.
As we reported earlier this year, only 500 of the hybrid hypercar will be built, every single one of them clad entirely in carbon fiber.
The Valhalla will look much like its bigger brother, the Valkyrie (the rear diffuser and air tunnels appear to be nearly identical). However, it will sport a more traditional mid-engine supercar layout, with high-exit exhausts, a jet-fighter-style canopy, and active aerodynamics and suspension.
It will be powered by an all-new V6 engine that will feature some level of hybridization and turbocharging to aid performance. Total output: 1,000 horsepower. However, that is still just a rumor. We’ll have to wait and see. Also available will be an 8-speed F1-inspired dual-clutch transmission, a limited-slip differential and an e-AWD system.
Aston Martin is targeting a 0-62 mph sprint time of 2.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 220 mph.
If you don’t have the almost $2 million ticket to ride this 200 mph-plus hybrid hypercar, you can see it in the upcoming 007 movie now in production starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. It is set to be one of a trio of Aston Martins to appear in the film. Send me a secure tip.
-Chuck Tannert; Forbes Staff
How Google Is Using AI To Make Voice Recognition Work For People With Disabilities
Want to schedule an appointment? Just ask your phone. Need to turn on your bedroom lights? Google Home has you covered.
Now a $49 billion market, voice-activated systems have gained popularity among consumers, thanks to their ability to automate and streamline mundane tasks. But for people with impaired speech, technologies that rely on voice commands have proved to be far from perfect.
That’s the impetus for Google’s newly formed Project Euphonia, part of the company’s AI for Social Good program. The project team is exploring ways to improve speech recognition for people who are deaf or have neurological conditions such as ALS, stroke, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain injury.
Google has partnered with nonprofit organizations ALS Therapy Development Institute and ALS Residence Initiative (ALSRI) to collect recorded voice samples from people who have the neurodegenerative disease, one that often leads to severe speech and mobility difficulties.
For those with neurological conditions, voice-activated systems can play a key role in completing everyday tasks and conversing with loved ones, caregivers or colleagues. “You can turn on your lights, your music or communicate with someone. But this only works if the technology can actually recognize your voice and transcribe it,” says Julie Cattiau, a product manager at Google AI.
The company’s speech recognition technology utilizes machine learning algorithms that require extensive data training. “We have hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of sentences that people have read—and we use them as examples for the algorithms to learn how to recognize each,” says Cattiau. “But it’s not enough for people with disabilities.”
With Project Euphonia, the team will instead use voice samples from people who have impaired speech in the hope that the underlying system will be trained to understand inarticulate commands.
While the goal is to create technology that is more accessible for people with speech impediments, the end result is still unclear.
“It’s possible that we will have models that work for multiple people with ALS and other medical conditions,” says Cattiau. “It’s also possible that people, even just within ALS, sound too different to have such a machine learning model in place. And in that case, we may need to have a level of personalization so that each person has their own model.”
Google’s speech recognition technology can comprehend virtually any voice command for people without speech impairments, due to the large data set that has been available for training. But some uncertainty exists about how broadly speech technology will be able to understand and act on directives from those who have difficulty speaking. The Project Euphonia team has only a limited number of voice samples from people with speech impediments, which allows it to focus only on specific-use words and phrases such as “read me a book” or “turn off the lights.”
Though Cattiau’s team has collected tens of thousands of recorded phrases, she says it needs hundreds of thousands more. That’s partly why Google CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled this project at the company’s annual developer conference in May.
“We are working hard to provide these voice-recognition models to the Google Assistant in the future,” he said, calling on people with slurred and impaired speech to submit their voice samples.
“Impaired speech is a very difficult data set to put together. It’s not as simple as asking people to record phrases, and there’s no data set just lying around,” Cattiau says. “We have to first put it together, and that’s a lot of work.”
Perhaps the most groundbreaking of Project Euphonia’s initiatives is its work on new interactive AI systems for people who are completely nonverbal. Also in its early stages, these systems are being trained to detect gestures, vocalizations and facial expressions, which can then trigger certain actions like sending or reading a text message.
“We want to cover the full spectrum of people—and not only those who can still speak,” says Cattiau. Although Project Euphonia is still in its infancy, it could eventually have a great impact on those with disabilities, giving them the freedom and flexibility to live independently.Follow me on Twitter.
-Ruth Umoh; Forbes Staff
Nigeria Needs A More Effective Sanitation Strategy Here Are Some Ideas:
In November last year, Nigeria declared that its water supply, sanitation and hygiene sector was in crisis. This was partly prompted by the fact that the country has struggled to make progress towards ending open defecation.
Almost one in four Nigerians – around 50 million people – defecates in open areas. They do so because access to proper sanitation, like private indoor toilets or outdoor communal toilets, has not improved in recent years.
In fact, it’s got worse: in 2000, 36.5% of Nigerians had access to sanitation facilities that hygienically separate human excreta from human contact. By 2015 the figure had dropped to 32.6%, likely driven by rapid population growth and a lack of sufficient private and public investment.
Open defecation comes with many risks. It can lead to waterborne diseases, cause preventable deaths, and hamper education and economic growth. It also infringes on people’s privacy and dignity.
The government has tried several strategies to address this problem. In 2008 it adopted an intervention called “Community Led Total Sanitation”. This is a community-level intervention aimed at reducing open defecation and improving toilet coverage.
It draws in community leaders and ordinary residents so they can understand the risks associated with open defecation. By 2014 the intervention was deployed in all 36 Nigerian states, covering around 16% of the country’s 123,000 communities.
We wanted to know how effective the programme has been, if at all. So we conducted a study and found that community-led total sanitation programmes alone will not eradicate the practice of open defecation. But they could be part of the solution.
We found that the programme currently works quite well in poor communities but is less effective in richer places – that is, places with higher average ownership rates of assets such as fridges, motorcycles, TVs, smartphones and power generators.
Poorer communities distinguish themselves from richer ones in other ways, too. They tend to have higher levels of trust among their citizens, lower initial levels of toilet coverage and lower wealth inequality. But none of these characteristics is, on its own, as strong a predictor of where the intervention works better than community wealth.
Low community wealth is a simple measure that encompasses all these different features, and is associated with greater programme effectiveness.
Community-led total sanitation typically starts with mobilisation. This initially involves community leaders and then, through them, communities more broadly. Then, a community meeting is held at which residents typically start by marking their household’s location and toilet ownership status on a stylised map on the ground. They also identify and mark regular open defecation sites.
Facilitators use the map to trace the community’s contamination paths of human faeces into water supplies and food. A number of other activities may follow, such as walks through the community that are often referred to as “walks of shame” during which visible faeces are pointed out, to evoke further disgust and shame.
Another common activity involves calculating medical expenses related to illnesses that are caused by open defecation practices.
In 2015 we worked with the charity organisation WaterAid Nigeria and local government agencies in the states of Ekiti and Enugu to design a field experiment in areas with no recent experience of community led total sanitation, or similar interventions.
The community-led total sanitation programme was implemented in a random sample of 125 out of 247 clusters of rural communities.
To study the intervention’s effectiveness, we interviewed 20 randomly selected households before community-led total sanitation took place. We followed up with these households eight, 24 and 32 months after the intervention.
We found that the programme’s roll-out didn’t lead to any changes in sanitation practices in richer communities. But it worked in the poorest communities. The prevalence of open defecation declined by an average of nine percentage points in poorer communities when compared to other poor areas where the programme wasn’t implemented. This drop was accompanied by a similar increase in toilet ownership rates.
Impact depends on wealth
Our results are in line with observations by the designers of the programme. But we are the first to show quantitatively that community asset wealth is a good predictor of whether the intervention can be expected to be successful. Unfortunately, our data does not allow us to pin down why households in poorer communities are more susceptible to the programme. However, these results have important implications for more cost effective targeting of the programme.
Most countries, including Nigeria, have access to readily available datafrom household surveys that can be used to measure how asset-poor a community is. These data can be used to identify and target communities where community-led total sanitation is likely to have the biggest impact.
Eradicating open defecation is not just a Nigerian priority. Today, an estimated 4.5 billion people globally don’t have access to safe sanitation. So we also looked at data and research about this same intervention from other parts of the world.
Community-led total sanitation intervention was first developed in Bangladesh in 1999. It has now been implemented in more than 25 Latin American, Asian and African countries.
We used information from evaluations of this intervention in Mali, India, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Indonesia. The studies found widely differing impacts. These ranged from a 30 percentage point increase in toilet ownership in Mali to no detectable impact on toilet ownership in Bangladesh.
Using a measure of wealth for these countries, we found that sanitation interventions have larger impacts in poorer areas, such as Tanzania, and low or no impact in relatively richer areas, such as Indonesia. This supports the idea that targeting poorer areas maximises the impact of community led total sanitation.
Our research shows that while community-led total sanitation is effective in Nigeria’s poorer areas, there are two main challenges.
First, community-led total sanitation had no perceivable impact in the wealthier half of our sample. There, open defecation remains widespread. And second, even in poor areas, a large number of households still engaged in open defecation after the intervention.
This suggests that while community-led total sanitation can be better targeted, it needs to be complemented with other policies – subsidies, micro-finance or programmes that promote private sector activity in this under-served market.
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