Could ‘smart mines’ be key to unlocking the potential of smart cities?
All around the globe, cities are turning to technology to improve the way they operate and, by extension, the lives of their citizens. These so-called “smart cities” promise to be safer, more efficient, and easier to live in. If they’re to live up to those promises, however, they should leverage off the model used by smart mines.
“There are a lot of similarities between what people want to achieve with smart cities and with what's being done in the digital mine,” says Michael Walters, product engineer at Etion.
As Walters points out, every city has its own ecosystem, comprising things like transport, healthcare, buildings, construction, logistics, and people. In the ideal smart city, these factors are all measured by sensors and connected by devices.
The data from these sensors and devices allows authorities to get an overview of things like where vehicles are moving, where congested areas are, the general health of the city, and the condition of the environment, among other things.
Using this data, authorities can take immediate action wherever it is needed. They can also push information out into the network, distributing it instantly.
“That sounds very similar to what’s going on in the mining industry, where there are inter-connected devices, from underground vehicles to people with wearable devices,” says Walters. In addition to that, the mining environment, similar to the smart city is constantly monitored, from haulages to stockpiles, factories and warehouses. The goal of all this monitoring is to supply actionable information at the right time and in the right place.
This, says Walters, makes mines a great proving ground for the digital technologies and systems used in smart cities.
“Think of a mine as a micro-ecosystem, which provides cities with an ideal test bed for new technologies that they may want to implement,” he says.
Walters has identified three major areas where smart mines could provide inspiration for smart cities.
The first is that, whatever you're developing or deploying, you have to take into consideration the robustness of the system. Is the system robust enough to survive the environment, plus extra?
“Secondly,” says Walters, “there’s ease of use. Whatever smart city initiatives you implement have to make people’s lives easier. You can't give them a system where there's an extra couple of steps in their day, or where they have to submit extra information, the user experience must be seamless.”
Finally, he points out, “You have to give copious amounts of training. Never underestimate the importance of that. You can never assume that because something's obvious to you, it's going to be obvious to someone else.”
In both mines and cities, there are massive benefits to taking a smart, digital-first approach. In both environments, people are safer, inefficiencies are reduced, and the general environment is more resilient and conducive to productivity.
Unlocking those benefits, however, means implementing those technologies properly. And in smart mines, cities have an ideal model for their own efforts in becoming smart.
Michael Walters will speak about the lessons smart cities can learn from smart mines at the Telematics Innovation and Vehicle Security Forum, which takes place on 23 and 24 August at the Emperors Palace Convention Centre in Johannesburg.