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Revolutionizing Mines: The Fusion of AI and 5.5G Networks

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The mining sector stands on the cusp of a groundbreaking shift, moving away from age-old practices of manual labor and heavy machinery towards a new realm where mines are synonymous with connectivity, automation, and artificial intelligence.

Recently, at MWC Barcelona, an annual congregation for the mobile communication industry, MINING.COM bore witness to the burgeoning marriage of telecommunications and mining, ushering in a new era of interdependence.

Courtesy of an invitation from the telecommunications behemoth Huawei, MINING.COM stepped foot into uncharted territory as the first mining media entity to grace MWC, laying eyes on an array of sensors, smart cameras, and soon-to-be-deployed 5G relay boxes for mines worldwide.

A palpable sense of excitement enveloped the crowd as the spotlight shone on the evolution of mobile internet โ€“ the much-anticipated โ€œ5.5Gโ€ or โ€œ5G Advancedโ€. This new benchmark is slated to infuse networks with a dose of intelligence through the application of AI and machine learning, maximizing efficiency while minimizing power consumption.

When queried about the rationale behind venturing into mining solutions, Huaweiโ€™s Vice President of Global Marketing and Solutions for mining and oil and gas, Jack Chan, minced no words: safety.

โ€œIn China, nearly 3 million coal miners toil away in 4,400 subterranean coal mines, often marred by tragic accidents,โ€ Chan elucidated. โ€œBy ushering workers from the depths of tunnels into rooms adorned with screens displaying vital metrics and visuals, companies are not just safeguarding lives but also beckoning to the newer generation.โ€

Chan stressed that a robust Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure plays a pivotal role in bolstering intelligent mining. Without swift communication networks, robust computing capacity, instantaneous data storage, and unwavering network security, critical functions such as real-time monitoring and swift data exchange become untenable.

โ€œThe younger demographic shuns the notion of enduring hours in hot, stuffy underground mines, favoring instead the comfort of air-conditioned rooms where they can monitor operations in real-time,โ€ Chan remarked.

The convergence of extraction data, staff locations, and hazard identification onto a centralized system aims to circumvent issues stemming from human fallibility and communication lapses. Here, robots replace individuals, patrolling and scrutinizing the dimly-lit, narrow subterranean passageways.

โ€œIn the intelligence era, AI service architects and AI algorithm engineers are slated to assume pivotal roles,โ€ Chan prophesied.

While remote and digital solutions are par for the course in coal operations elsewhere โ€“ like Canada and Australia โ€“ China has trailed in this realm, prompting the government to earmark 2035 as the deadline for digitalizing all mines.

AI, 5.5G networks pioneering smart operations in mines
Remote control of a boring machine at a coal mine in Shanxi, China. (Image courtesy of Huawei.)

Leading the charge is Huawei with their AI-based Pangu Mining suite, which made its debut in July last year following rigorous testing of large-scale AI models in industrial settings.

The moniker โ€˜Panguโ€™ draws inspiration from ancient Chinese lore, symbolizing the genesis of the universe.

Comprising 21 application scenarios across nine operational domains โ€“ including coal mining, tunneling, primary and auxiliary transportation, safety monitoring, and more โ€“ Pangu addresses the vexing challenge of rock bursts in mining. Shandong Energy quelled this menace in its Lilou and Xinjulong coal mines by leveraging Huaweiโ€™s AI model.

Thanks to its adept visual recognition capabilities, Pangu can astutely assess the quality of stress-relief drilling, aiding personnel in rock burst prevention with quality assurance, thereby slashing review time by 82%. What once took three days for assessment now wraps up in a mere 10 minutes, boasting a 100% acceptance rate.

Some of the 800 mining companies that have adopted Huawei solutions
Courtesy of Huawei.

Chileโ€™s Codelco, the globeโ€™s leading copper miner, has also embraced Huaweiโ€™s solutions in a bid to revamp underperforming mines and projects detracting from both production and profitability.

Amidst dwindling copper yields โ€“ the lowest in 25 years โ€“ the state-owned entity aims to streamline operations, prioritizing high-yield areas as it navigates turbulent waters.

Immersion in Interconnectedness

Central to Huaweiโ€™s ethos is connectivity, with an emphasis on fostering a cohesive network that seamlessly ties together a gamut of apparatus and intelligent gadgets. Enter Harmony โ€“ the operative system slotting into different devices, enabling them to communicate effortlessly, fostering smoother collaboration and a seamless, secure, and dependable user experience across all fronts.

โ€œEmbarking on the journey of digital intelligence transformation in the intelligence era necessitates the amalgamation of AI technology with industry cognition and the invaluable data amassed by enterprises,โ€ iterated Jasonย Liu, President of Learning & Certification Services at Huawei, at MWC Barcelona 2024.

Huawei booth MWC Barcelona 2024
The gargantuan Huawei booth at MWC Barcelona 2024. (Image courtesy of Huawei.)

An important caveat stressed by Liu โ€“ AI solutions should serve as a tool augmenting human intelligence, not supplanting it.

Pangu, for instance, adeptly identifies anomalies, pinpoints their location and characteristics, and offers tailored solutions. It operates on a predictive mode, filling in the gaps at a profound level.

AI is steering mining companies towards becoming data-informed enterprises where data fuels prompt, precise decisions, fortifies health and safety protocols, bolsters efficiency by weeding out errors, and curtails operational footprint.

Digital transformation isnโ€™t just a tool for mining firms; itโ€™s a paramount value shaping their ethos. Huawei underscores the importance of cultivating an organizational culture that embraces innovation and adapts to the tides of evolving technologies for triumph in the competitive landscape.

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