Canadian wireless communications producer Active Control Technology this week unveiled the Starfish feature for its ActiveMine communications system.
“We know of no other communication system marketed to the mining community which has this capability,” Active Control president Steve Barrett said on Tuesday.
In an interview with International Longwall News, Barrett said the Starfish feature, which will automatically be included in all ActiveMine installations, had been in development for several months prior to its unveiling this week.
“We wanted an elegant and low-cost technology that can provide 'miner-to-miner' communication over a large area in case a section of the network became isolated from the head end," he explained, adding that the feature was successfully operated in the West Virginia operation where its first ActiveMine installation is located.
Starfish works on top of ActiveMine's Wi-Fi mesh network through a series of nodes placed strategically throughout an operation. If a node or series of nodes should become isolated from the others, such as in the event of an incident underground, voice communications will automatically be re-established within that separated area – in much the same way as a new starfish can regenerate from another's severed section.
Barrett said there is no limit to the number of people who can be linked by the new component.
“One of the most powerful aspects of Starfish is that it allows everyone within an isolated area of the mine – wherever an ActiveMine network is in place – to stay connected by voice and to coordinate their actions," he said.
There will also be no need for the federal approval for Starfish that is currently still pending on the ActiveMine system.
“The Starfish capabilities are primarily software-driven and use existing ActiveMine hardware, [so] no specific MSHA intrinsically safe approval is required for the feature," Barrett said.
One limitation of the feature is that it is meant for voice and data communications within an isolated network with no "head end". As such, because no network controls will be available for its function, certain features like tracking are not available. Barrett points out, however, that in an emergency situation ActiveMine would have recorded the last known location of each miner before the event that caused the isolation.
One primary plus of the Starfish system is the automatic reconnection of the isolated area with the main network when a signal is recognised. Additionally, local networks that are Starfish-enabled can be linked to satellite phones, allowing the isolated locations to have fully digital communications and data sharing with the outside world.
“We’re committed to ensuring ActiveMine remains the benchmark for wireless mine communications and locating systems," Barrett told ILN of the announcement.
“ACT’s enhancement of ActiveMine with Starfish demonstrates that commitment."
Meanwhile, as the US Mine Safety and Health Administration continues to work to approve communications and tracking technology, Barrett said it "continues to make good progress" in that area as it awaits ActiveMine's approval.
“We anticipate that [it] will receive its MSHA approvals in ample time to fulfil US federal and state requirements as well as the terms of our current purchase orders and new business proposals," he said.