Robotics Investing Heats Up

Brian Hicks

Updated April 19, 2013

Clearpath Robotics of Canada has come up with the Grizzly Robot Utility Vehicle. This contraption is an unmanned four-wheel-drive robotic system that can deal with nearly any type of terrain—thus making it suitable for agricultural, mining, and defense applications.

The Grizzly comes with four 26-inch all-terrain tires, a front axle that articulates 16 degrees, and an 8-inch front clearance. That means the Grizzly can easily handle obstacles as high as 6 inches while keeping all wheels on the ground. A 60-kW electric motor provides power, and the drivetrain has a drawbar pull of 1,400 pound-force.

the grizzlyAccording to Clearpath, the Grizzly can readily handle payloads of up to 1,322 pounds. The Grizzly itself weighs in at 2,000 pounds (this varies depending on the battery being used). It can either cruise at about 12 MPH for 12 hours, or work a heavy payload for about 3 hours.

According to GizMag, the Grizzly’s primary control computer supports all Robot Operating System-compatible hardware. That makes things pretty easy, as Robot Operating System is widely in use already.

Despite looking like an off-road vehicle, the Grizzly actually features 11 square feet of space between its wheels, which means industrial operators can secure equipment, research materials, cargo, or other forms of payload. Moreover, the Grizzly features numerous outlets of varying voltages so as to support electronic devices.

Robot Miners of the Future

What’s most interesting here is how the Grizzly can easily become a front runner in a new revolution that’s sweeping across the mining sector. This sector has recently become a bit famous for heavily pushing toward increased usage of robotic equipment and systems in a variety of mining operations.

BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) of Australia, for example, declared late last year that it would deploy a whole fleet of robotic vehicles at its Jimblebar mine in Western Australia. The vehicles would be controlled remotely from a new operations center in Perth.

BHP also plans to deploy 12-15 automated Caterpillar trucks at the mine sometime late this year. And one of BHP’s main competitors, Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO) has already moved a step ahead. Rio has 10 automated Komatsu trucks at its Junction South East mine, which is projected to go up to 150 such trucks in the near future.

And in the U.S., Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute paired up with the Technology Development Group of Anglo American (LON: AAL) on a similar effort. Their five-year agreement intends to promote exploration and development of robotic applications specific to mining purposes.

As part of the agreement, a variety of robotic mining systems and platforms will be designed, constructed, and tested out.

Robotics: The Coming Revolution

The applications for robotics in the mining sector are numerous. By using advanced robotic systems, miners could automate various processes. We could see robotic mining equipment, highly precise mine mapping systems, and automated inspection technologies.

If you saw the recent film Prometheus, you’ll recall that the exploring crew released two airborne robotic devices that appeared to use some form of laser to, essentially, build a 3-D projection of the interior cave system.

We may not be quite there yet, but it’s more than feasible that we’ll see automated devices, possibly like the Grizzly, being put to use for exploratory purposes.

That, of course, means you should take robotics quite seriously. Robots are the future. They’ve already become a substantial part of many hospitals’ healthcare infrastructure, and advances are happening rapidly. The robotics industry is worth around $5 billion now, and this is expected to bloom into a $20 billion market by 2020.

One of the most exciting future applications could well be underwater. We’ve mined a lot of the planet’s surface. But three-fourths of the planet lies underwater—and we’ve barely touched that. Accessibility is the biggest problem, and that’s exactly where robotic mining could prove a game-changer.

Nautilus Minerals (TSX: NUS) of Australia has already pushed ahead into this area, sending robotic mining devices into the waters of Papua New Guinea to prospect for metals deep under the sea.

Needless to say, we could reach similarly difficult regions beneath the terrestrial surface too, relying on advanced robotic systems. And that’s not even accounting for the increased efficiencies we should expect from such highly precise systems. By all means, consider robotics and mining a happily developing future relationship.


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