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Indian Mine Monitors Workers and Toxic Gases

PervCom's active 2.4 GHz RFID tags, attached to cap lamps, track miners' locations and contain sensors for measuring temperature, humidity and air quality.
By Dave Friedlos
The system could be vital in detecting the emission of toxic gases, Bandyopadhyay says, and in tracking and rescuing miners during emergency situations. "We are in the earliest stage of the trial," he states, "but it is working well and has shown some promising results in terms of improved safety."

In the coming months, CIMFR and PervCom hope to expand the areas of the mine in which the system operates, as well as extend the parameters for monitoring mine gases. The companies are presently awaiting clearance from the nation's Directorate General of Mines Safety to deploy a larger pilot involving 100 tags and 30 routers. According to Bandyopadhyay, the technology could also be utilized to monitor conditions in hilly regions, and to warn of impending landslides.

Vendata, meanwhile, is also trialing PervTrack RTLS to monitor industrial vehicles and other mobile assets entering and leaving its factory. Each asset will be fitted with a WiT-101 tag, which communicates its current location through the wireless mesh network to the nearest R-101X router, placed at strategic locations. PervCom is presently implementing 25 routers and 20 tags ahead of the pilot. The asset's location can then be viewed through the PervTrack software running at the control station. PervTrack software provides map-based views, alert notification and reporting from a single, scalable unified platform. The Web-based application enables Vedanta to monitor the location data online, in real time.

The pilots are essential, says PervCom director Somprakash Bandyopadhyay, in addressing the number of challenges and issues involved when deploying RFID in an underground environment. "We had to confront issues such as power consumption and how long the tags can operate in a mine environment," he says. "There are also issues around dust, moisture and humidity, which are found underground. The tags, routers and other equipment have to be able to withstand the environment."

Furthermore, it was necessary to determine the optimal frequency for operating underground. PervCom opted for 2.4 GHz active tags compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. The system also complies with the ZigBee standard (which is also based on IEEE 802.15.4). Somprakash Bandyopadhyay, however, says testing revealed systems operating only on the ZigBee standard had limitations in terms of the number of hops the signal could make. With PervTrack, an RFID tag's signal can hop as many as 15 times, from tag to tag or router, and on to gateway.

When the pilots are completed, Somprakash Bandyopadhyay says, PervCom plans to move to a full-scale rollout, beginning locally before targeting the overseas market. The company intends to specifically target mining and chemical companies that have the greatest need to monitor assets and environmental conditions.

"These can be dangerous environments," he says, "and if there is an emergency, such as gas or toxic leak, this system will detect the leak and alert staff, and ensure the company knows where its people are. We are just at the beginning of our journey, but when we are finished, companies will be able to have an integrated RTLS and RTSS system, and will be able to see the position of their miners and the status of environment conditions—all online."

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