Mining is a tough job anywhere. South Africa has a considerable mining industry, which makes mining safety an important topic in the country. Vodacom has designs on improving mining safety, through the use of wearable technology. And the Internet of Things (IoT), because that’s still a buzzword, apparently.
As with other products released by the mobile service provider, like the Curve tracker and the newly-unveiled Linea watch, Vodacom’s mining tech is heavily based on location tracking. And a few other things as well. Miners require more than just a panic button, after all.
Vodacom says: ‘Mine’
Vodacom’s Connected Worker solution was recently trialled in South Africa. It consists of a device, worn by miners, that includes a collection of sensors designed for use underground. Along with the GPS tracking you might expect, there’s also a panic button, fall and lack-of-motion detection, and a gas sensor. The major hazards facing miners are mostly covered by the Connected Worker gear. There’s also a battery status indicator, so miners know how much time they’ve got left before it conks out.
Helping with that last point is a low-power technology called Narrowband-Internet of Things (yes, really) or NB-IoT. It has two functions — it works better underground, and it extends the battery life possible for devices using it. Both of those are very desirable when it comes to assisting people in mines.
Thando Sibindi, Vodacom’s managing executive for Mining Resources and Manufacturing, explains the benefits of the program. “[T]he device will log an alert, in real-time if the worker presses the panic button, falls or is injured and is not moving, enabling a rapid emergency response that could save a life.”
“Should the worker enter a hazardous or restricted area – these are geofenced on a digitised map by the company ahead of device deployment – it will trigger a notification so they can move back to safety,” he added.
The test is yet to come
The mobile service provider has already successfully conducted a test with some 8,000 of its Connected Worker devices. Safety is obviously one concern, but there’s also another. Some of the touted benefits are “…better oversight and management of worker safety, team productivity, and the resource scheduling of contractors”. This sounds an awful lot like constant tracking of worker movements to us. Perhaps it’s an acceptable cost when you’re working underground, but if it happens in a warehouse, you’re working for Amazon. It would be worth being more suspicious of similar technology in a situation when you’re not worried about being buried by tons of earth and metal.
At the moment, Vodacom’s Connected Worker devices still constitute a test program. Stuff has asked the company when it’s scheduled for a broader rollout and will update you when they give us a response. Given the company’s push into wearables and tracking devices in general, it’s probably not too far off.