Boliden Kollab is a system for the mining industry where communication is centralized, joysticks assist collaboration and repetitive tasks are reduced due to automation.

The project was developed in 10 weeks at Umeå Institute of Design, with Piotr Kuklo and Enara Aguirrezabala.

Collaborating companies in this project: Boliden, ABB, RISE Interactive, Oryx Simulations, Vinnova, Energimyndigheten, Formas, PiiA.

DETAILS

Kollab consists of an interface for rock-breaker tele-operators to control their machines, monitor system status, communicate with other workers and collaborate. The raise of automated systems assist these workers by reducing repetitive tasks and improving efficiency.

CHALLENGE

Design a concept for a remote-controlled rock-breaker in mining environment. Focus on designing a multimodal interface that will support the professional to operate and monitor the equipment in a sustainable way.

MY ROLE

  • Research (group)
  • Concept Development (group)
  • Prototyping (group)
  • Interface Design

OVERVIEW

In mining operations, it is common for rocks containing ores to be oversized. Because of that, companies usually deploy a rock-breaker, a mechanical arm with a hydraulic hammer that breaks the material into smaller pieces in order for it to be crushed and processed.

From the very beginning, these machines are controlled in situ, what is considered to be very hazardous and unhealthy. The use of teleoperation and autonomous systems is growing each day, especially in the mining industry, and our group was assigned to work with these technologies.

The primary goal of the overall project was to investigate how the interface should be designed and implemented for improved efficiency, operator ergonomics and reduced machine wear for remote controlling.

The future of mining

In the beginning of our research we stumbled upon ABB’s concept of the future of mining. A world were fields are highly automated and connected, controlled remotely from a single central room, where team of professionals from all sectors of the field work together, preventing what they call isles of automation (even if the system is highly automated, there is little communication between different sectors).

This discovery led us to the thinking that the systems should be not only automated, but integrated.

RESEARCH

Senses

In order to develop an experience as close to real, we started diving into examples of solutions for these three senses: touch, vision and sound.

sense_touch

Touch

The operator should have a haptic feedback in order to get to know if the hammer is working properly.

sense_sight

Vision

Is our most trusted feeling. Leads our perception on space and shortens time for reaction.

sense_hearing

Sound

Corresponds to 50% of an immersive experience. It also assists overloaded sight.

Remote controlling

Since we are bringing teleoperation to the mining industry, let’s begin taking a look at what is already on market.

inspiration_dronecontrolling

Drone controlling

Used for both entertainment and professional market, they have different shapes and functionalities.

inspiration_gamingindustry

Gaming industry

Also adopted in professional industries, many game controllers are known for its advanced ergonomics.

inspiration_telemedicine

Telemedicine

Precision is the word. Our challenge could be transferring telemedicine functionalities and accuracy into the mining industry.

Contextual inquiry

We had the chance of visiting the open pit mine of Aitik, near Gällivare in northern Sweden. There, we talked to the current rock-breaker operators, got to know the activities they perform everyday and the issues in their work day.

Key Findings

1

Communication is decentralized

Several channels, many different procedures and high information load. These professionals’ routine involve interdependent actions that generally require human intervention to happen. All these factors contribute for mental tiredness by the end of the week.

2

The Collaboration factor

One of the main aspects of working in mines is the interaction among people – here, operators work in pairs, so they can help and learn from each other. Furthermore, they talk with different sectors: maintenance, administration, inspectors. An intelligent system could leverage this aspect by connecting people, processes and machines.

3

Rock-breaking perception

Teleoperated systems design is a big challenge when talking about machine-wear. While operating from a distance, there is a need for tools that enable sight, hearing and touch as much as if the professional would be on site. That is currently made through video streaming, audio streaming and force feedback joysticks.
Sometimes one sense is not enough – for instance, while breaking a rock, the “crack sound” can reveal it was broken even before the eyes detect it.

4

Ergonomics and long hours sitting

After mapping out their routine and activities, we realized these workers spend at least 50% of their working day sitting while controlling the machine. This long exposure to inactivity can lead to health problems just like the long time using a joystick to control the rock-breaker can lead to Repetitive Strain Injuries.

IDEATION AND PROTOTYPING

The key findings brought clarity and focus to what would be our challenge from now.
After gathering data from different markets, reading articles, doing field research and identifying the main pain points in the system, it was the time to craft a meaningful and actionable problem statement.

How might we improve the process by facilitating collaboration between stakeholders and enhancing the rock-breaking perception?

Concepts

Brainstorming sessions started and many ideas later, the features were fit into three concepts, presented to you below:

1. Perception
  • More data about surroundings, machine status and the process;
  • Use of augmented reality for assisting in the breaking process (knowing which rocks to break first and where);
  • Ergonomic features, such as portable joysticks.
2. Collaboration
  • Communication and collaboration through videoconferencing;
  • Remote-controlling a work-mate’s machine in order to teach or assist;
  • Repetitive tasks are minimized with the help of a semi-autonomous system.
3. High-tech future
  • Rock-breaker can be controlled from a tablet;
  • Joysticks have completely different design;
  • Most mine activities are automated and beacons track the workers’ locations for faster communication and safer procedures.

Prototyping

During this phase, we took a deep dive into redesigning the joysticks in order to improve ergonomics reduce cognitive load and leverage collaboration (see more details further).
An interactive prototype, controllable through Wii Nunchuck joysticks was developed to validate our idea of working with augmented reality.

FINAL SOLUTION

Portable joysticks

Leverages dynamics in office while giving a personal touch to the work tools.

Collaboration mode

If you need help, a friend can takeover your machine and teach you by doing.

Centralized communication

All communications now in a smart system connected to a handset.

Redesigned interface

Lean interface without rarely used functions and less distractions.

Automation of Repetitive Tasks

Reduces workload and stress by the end of the week.

Augmented Reality assistance

Knowing where and what to do makes you work faster.

Interesting?

Let’s chat and find out how we can help each other.