Mining companies betting on autonomous technology to make dangerous jobs safer

Today, companies are employing everything from driverless haul trucks to remote-controlled and robotic drilling machines to remove human labour from some of their most hazardous operations.

Saskatoon-based Nutrien Ltd. — which has been working to develop tele-remote technology at its network of six potash mines in Saskatchewan — successfully mined an entire production wing at its underground Lanigan site last fall without a single human setting foot in the area.

Using a combination of radar, cameras, advanced sensing systems and cutting-edge technologies powered by artificial intelligence, Nutrien was able to operate one of its massive potash boring machines from a control room a few hundred metres away from the active mining face…

The feat — the result of several years of intensive engineering work and experimentation — was a company first, with the goal of making potash mining safer by removing workers from the most hazardous underground locations.