Monitoring location and activities of miners underground, as well as environmental information, is essential to ensure miner safety. Information transmission systems currently used in underground mines are not able to cost-effectively address this need.  Visible Light Communication (VLC) and Power Line Communication (PLC) hold unique, inexpensive, scalable and compatible capabilities that can be employed to improve miners' safety. Power line installations and lighting form part of existing mine infrastructure and can be used as communication channels through PLC and VLC systems.

Using this approach, Wits researchers have developed a cost-effective system to monitor a miner’s location through transmissions of light the LED-based headlamp, modified to emit a globally unique and imperceptible signature. The signature is monitored by installed sensors at regular intervals (e.g., every few meters) inside the mine. This enables continuous location tracking of miners, which improves rescue efforts in the event of cave-ins and ensures areas are clear of personnel before blasting. The system uses existing mining infrastructure and is easy to implement.

Perhaps most importantly, the system will in due course transmit and log sensor data such as atmospheric gas and dust content, temperature, radiation, as well as vitals of the wearer such as heart rate. This data can then be used to rapidly identify an emergency, and trigger evacuation so as to ensure miner’s health and safety.

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