S. Schafrik, V. Androulakis, J. Sottile, and Z. Agioutantis, University of Kentucky

Repetitive tasks, such as moving a vehicle from one point to another, can be moved from human control to robot or autonomous control. When it comes to moving coal from the general face area to the outside, conveyor belts have long been the autonomous means of transportation. However, between the end of the belt at the face and the face-cutting locations, there is still the repetitive task of going between the miner and the feeder. Current research seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous machinery in the mining cycle underground. By introducing the autonomous shuttle cars, the operator can be removed from dusty, noisy and potentially dangerous conditions, and stay in a relatively safe location while supervising the machine instead of operating it. This paper will present preliminary results for automating shuttle cars in the underground coal mining cycle. Lab-scale prototypes equipped with ultrasonic sensors, inertial measurement unit, and a 2D Lidar are currently being developed and tested in a mock mine plan, simulating several navigation scenarios around a pillar. Success/failure metrics are being used for evaluating the performance of the developed systems. The lab-scale platforms are able to communicate wirelessly with a server through a network covering the mining section. Two-way communication enables supervision of the machine, collecting the data and remotely controlling the autonomous platform.