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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Is Mining about to go Micro - Post 4
Now in Part 4 lets get into a really crazy idea
Predicting the future uptake of technologies is a difficult thing to do. Not many people would have predicted the internet or its impact, even as recently as 15 years ago. Lots of people wrote of trains, planes, automobiles, even telephones as things that wouldn't be much use. Even so, let’s suspend our disbelief for a while and see where this might go.
Imagine small earthmovers - not Ford's - but small 'microbots'. As an example, consider the dragonfly robot. This small robot can see, fly, and power itself by the sun. What would you be able to do if you could have 1 million of these machines each moving a small amount of crushed ore? While this is perhaps far fetched, it is worth considering as a possibility just as an exercise in reviewing the economics of the small.
If you could engineer it so that the bot know where to pick up a load and where to drop it off, travel in as straight a line as possible to get it there, and rest in the sun to recharge itself when it needed to, little else is needed.
As the prototype of the bot already exists, and the swarm intelligence distributed algorithms already control robots in the laboratory, and the sensor and control systems already exist to control such a system, there is little else for which to wait.
The way this works might look something like this: Two radio beacons are placed, one on the pile of crushed ore at the bottom of the pit (you need the crusher to be at the bottom of the pit) the second at the drop off point. Once activated, any dragonfly bot that has a sufficient charge, and is not carrying a load will fly to the beacon. Once in the vicinity of the beacon, a local control system vectors the bot to the top of the pile where ore of the needed characteristics is known to be located. The bot grabs its load of say 50-100g of crushed ore, and on automatic, it flys to the beacon at the drop-off point. On the way, using a standard swarm model, the bot negotiates the rest of the swarm and its environment until, in the vicinity of the drop-off beacon it is vectored to the release point.
And it doesn't have to be a flying dragonfly robot, there are small crawling robots, snake like robots, and many other variations, any of which may be able to fundamentally change the mining process.
Have a look at the new AlphaDog video. This robot will carry hundreds of kilos over any terrain. You can also look at earlier prototypes - BigDog on Youtube as well.