Robotic mining has been in the news in recent months. While this technology is geared towards mining numerous types of resources, it will have considerable implications for precious metals, as well. It could have implications for mining on land, underwater as well as in space.
On land, Timetric’s Mining Intelligence Centre (MIC) estimates that 48% of miners across both Europe and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) plan to make use of autonomous vehicles by 2020.
A recent survey saw more than 100 mine managers and other senior-decision makers operating mines in 23 European and FSU countries, such as Russia, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Finland say they were considering autonomous vehicles.
31% of respondents were already using autonomous vehicles on-site, with a greater number in Scandinavian countries (44%). Less than 11% use the technology in Eastern Europe.
Vehicle automation is expected to be widely adopted by 2020, with 25% of respodents saying they would implement the technology by 2020. Half of those plan to implement automation within the next two years. By 2020, autonomous vehicles are predicted to be used in 44% of surface mining operations and 51% of underground operations, representing a major increase from the current 31% of all operations.
“Autonomous vehicles can be a viable option for many operations in Europe and the FSU that typically face higher operating costs due to labour, compared to mines in Africa and Asia. Automation can address these cost issues, whilst also increasing safety for onsite personnel. Both the current rate and expected 2020 rate of autonomous vehicles use is also much higher than mines in Africa and Asia,” says Clifford Smee, Senior Mining Analyst at Timetric’s MIC.
Earth is not the only place where robots will soon be used to mine resources. Off-earth mining robots have been pursued by NASA and private companies looking to prospect for water, ice, minerals, metals, helium-3 and other resources in space.
The European Union’s Horizon 2020 program represents a three-and-a-half year project looking to expand robotic underwater mining systems.
“Building on successful deep-sea excavation techniques, this prototype will provide a safer and cleaner option for extracting currently unreachable and/or uneconomic mineral deposits,” according to the EU.
“¡VAMOS! will also look to enhance currently available underwater sensing, spatial awareness, navigational and positioning technology, as well as providing an integrated solution for efficient real-time monitoring of the parameters associated with potential environmental impacts.”
All of these systems will revolutionize mining. The implications for precious metals prices, in particular, will be minimal for many decades to come, though, one could imagine.