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Feds prioritize automation research to meet growing demand from US mining sector

The U.S. government established a new research program to address the expansion of automation and related technology in the mining sector.

Automation is a hot topic in the mining space, as companies look to new technology with the potential to lower costs and decrease safety risks. Acknowledging the "rapidly expanding" interest in the technology, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is asking the industry to help it prioritize research by its mining program.

NIOSH, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is specifically seeking instances of gaps in technology and research that may be unlikely to be undertaken by other federal agencies, academia or the private sector, a March 18 publication in the Federal Register said.

"The mining industry has been undergoing significant changes as companies look to adopt automation technologies to decrease costs and increase efficiency and, according to some companies, improve safety," the notice states. "These new technologies include automated mobile equipment, robotics, teleoperation, wireless communications and sensing systems, wearable sensors and computers, virtual and augmented reality, and data analytics."

While surface iron ore mines in Western Australia appear closest to achieving completely autonomous mining, the notice states, adoption of automation technology is gaining momentum in the U.S. Early adopters in the U.S. include automation at processing facilities, on drilling equipment and underground coal mine longwalls. NIOSH noted there are also now pilot projects with automated haulage trucks and loaders.