Autonomous System for Underground Exploration and Navigation

CIM Montreal 2003
Joseph Nsasi, Paul Cohen,
Abstract Several navigation systems for underground mining vehicles have been developed in recent years. They are mostly making use of particular infrastructure as reflective stripes or optical guides. The installation and maintenance of this guiding infrastructure is costly and time-consuming, thus not suitable for rapidly changing environments. The future of autonomous navigation relies on developing infrastructure-free technologies. However, the guideless navigation in unstructured environments is still a challenging task that requires solutions to a variety of problems such as reliable sensing, vehicle localization, map-building, path-tracking control and obstacle detection/avoidance.

This paper describes the system for autonomous guideless navigation in unknown or partially known drift-type environments typical for underground mines. The system allows two modes of operation: exploration/surveying mode and autonomous navigation mode. In the exploration/surveying mode, a remotely located operator specifies a path through designated areas using local view provided by the on-board sensing system. As an alternative, an a-priori sketch of the environment can be also used for path specification . Then the path is executed and collected data are used to create 2D/3D maps of the environment.

In the autonomous navigation mode, an operator defines the mission specifying via-points on the previously acquired survey map. A motion planning module translates the mission into a set of navigation actions containing information about the geometry of the path and required sensing modes. The list of navigation actions is transferred to the on-board controller for execution. Self localization and obstacle detection capabilities are integrated into the system and appropriate operator interface is developed.

An experimental robotic platform has been assembled and successfully tested using indoor experimental setup. During the last year the system functionality has been proven through the series of on-site tests in Noranda Brunswick Mine. The technology transfer issues are currently discussed with potential industrial partners.
Keywords: Navigation, Underground, Autonomous, guideless, localization, Exploration, map-building
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