Safety & Security Category Winner, "Create the Future" 2007 Design Contest
- Created: Tuesday, 01 April 2008
(Winner of an HP Workstation)
Personnel Beacon/Locator for Mine Workers
Kansas City, MO
When trapped, miners are instructed to create noise by tapping on surrounding metal pipes and stone. However, rescuers cannot be sure these signals originated from the trapped miners or was another noise source underground. Many miners may still be alive today if technology was employed to signal that they were alive and provide their location to searchers.
The Personnel Beacon/Locator (PBL) is the solution to this problem. The PBL will send ultrasonic waves directly into the surrounding rock and any metal surface available. Using signaling called spread spectrum signaling (SSS), the PBL will help locate a trapped miner to within 10 feet. This signaling is also utilized by the military and Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). A small battery-powered device consisting of a piezoelectric speaker and driving circuitry is given to each miner to carry at all times while in the mine. If caught in a cave-in, all a miner has to do is press the device’s nozzle up against any exposed solid surface and depress a button. Rescuers at the surface on the other end will detect the sound signals with a series of microphones pressed up against the rock or pipe’s surface.
The detecting electronics will take advantage of the unique properties of SSS to virtually eliminate the background noise due to the cave-in and focus on the sound coming from the miners. The electronics then feed data into a computer at the base station that cross-references the distance measured with a map of the mine. This process can locate the trapped miner to within 15 feet.
The primary market for the PBL consists of 142,000 to 165,000 individuals that are directly employed in mining operations in the United States. It is estimated each device will be sold for $100, while costing under $20 to manufacture. The sensitive microphones and base stations for rescuers to utilize will have a varying cost, depending on the size of the mine and configuration of the shafts.