Where is the wearable? Improving mine safety

Knowing where workers are is essential for keeping them safe in high-risk environments, such as mines. It is not an easy task: GPS systems rely on satellites, which don’t work underground. It’s an issue that’s central to the work of Vandrico, a Vancouver-based company focused on developing technology to improve information flow in mines — with a particular focus, since 2013, on wearable technology, to help employers keep track of where their workers are.

Vandrico approached Langara College’s Computing Science and Information Systems program with a challenge: to adapt an industrial Wi-Fi network and off-the-shelf wearable technology to keep track of employees underground. Program Coordinator Kim Lam, working with students Calvin Hu and Edmond Wong, used his radio frequency engineering background to tackle that challenge. They tested both smart watches and industrial cell phones as possible options to serve as the wearable technology, since workers commonly use both.

Over six months, Lam and the two students came up with a smart phone app called ConnectedWorker, which greatly improved the precision of this new type of locating system. The students, who each contributed more than 100 hours to the project, testing and gathering data, were tremendously excited to know their work was real-world relevant.

The outcome of this project was a much greater precision in locating people than Vandrico’s previous solution, and one that should make mine workers safer and better able to react to incidents underground.

“We are very happy to have advanced the capabilities of indoor and underground location tracking using wearable technologies,” says Vandrico President Kenny McKenzie. “Langara College has produced an order-of-magnitude improvement in locating abilities with this technology.”

The improvement will be important in bidding on future projects, as well as being an intellectual property asset for Vandrico.

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