Cambrian College partners with technology company to make mining safer

Sudbury’s Cambrian College is helping a company called NSS Canada make underground mining safer.

NSS has developed an augmented reality system that uses Microsoft’s Hololens 2 to let a miner work a safe distance from a mine face. Cambrian’s applied research division will help design a bracket so the system can attach to a miner’s hardhat.

The mine face is the end of a drift, or horizontal tunnel, which a miner would typically prepare for blasting. They would drill holes into the rock wall and insert explosives. 

While mines in Ontario have gotten much safer, the mine face is still one of the most dangerous places for a miner to be.

“The underground mining face is one of the most dangerous places to be because it’s under a lot of stress as it adjusts to being in that open void. So there’s a risk of rocks popping, of ground falling, and that can injure or kill somebody,” said Matthew Brown, NSS Canada’s general manager.

The company’s augmented reality system lets a miner measure where they should place their explosives from a safe distance away. It also allows them to do that work in under 10 minutes, instead of an hour. 

But when they developed their system they came across one problem: there was no way to safely attach it to a hardhat designed for underground mining.

They would need a custom-built bracket to attach the system to a hardhat, while still meeting the strict safety requirements for underground mining in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

“We’ve looked high and low and decided this was something we couldn’t buy and we couldn’t really develop in house by ourselves,” Brown said. 

“We don’t have the equipment or the technical know-how. So that’s where we reached out to Cambrian.”

Mike Commito, Cambrian College’s director of applied research and innovation, says the school makes it a priority to have students participate in research and development projects. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Mike Commito, Cambrian’s director of applied research and innovation, said they’ve provided NSS Canada access to students and experts who can help design a bracket that meets all the safety requirements.

Commito said it’s important to get students involved so they get real-world experience.

“This is an actual problem that NSS has identified,” he said.

“And so if we’re able to allow our students to help them navigate that challenge, and eventually find a solution, that’s great for NSS because they get to meet their innovation goal. But the student also gets that experience as well.”

Matteo Neville, a mechatronics and engineering technology student at Cambrian College, was one of the students brought on board to help design the bracket.

“I have a little bit of experience with doing some freeform modelling,” he said. “So they kind of thought that the project was a good fit for me.”

Neville said he wants to focus on research and development after he graduates.

“There’s always new things you get to play with and things that you get to experience,” he said. 

“And I really like new technology, so it’s really cool to get to see and work on the new technology.”

The project to design the custom-made bracket will start in September. Cambrian has said it expects a first prototype should be ready two months after that. 

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