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Kentucky, West Virginia Mines Try RFID Combined With Telecommunications

To improve safety, the mines are adopting or testing systems that use Axcess International's active RFID tags and readers, integrated with communications technologies from Tunnel Radio or Foundation Telecommunications Inc.
By Claire Swedberg
Testers carried Axcess RFID tags in their pockets, and the tags' 315 to 433 MHz RF signals were picked up by the wireless nodes. In this case, the nodes could forward such data as the individual's ID number, as well as any voice or video data, via an 802.11 wireless mesh system. When the information reached the tunnel's surface, it was received by a satellite dish that then transmitted it to FTI's satellite hub in Salt Lake City.

From there, explains Byron del Castillo, Architron's CEO, the data was made available on a Web server that authorized users in remote locations could then access via the Internet to gain information regarding the miners' location in the tunnels, or real-time audio or video images of what was happening in the mine. Because the nodes were placed 250 feet apart, and since the RFID readers proved able to receive transmissions at about 125 feet, FTI had real-time visibility the entire time a miner was in the tunnels.

The wireless mesh system, del Castillo says, enabled multiple transmissions, including voice, RF data and video, all to be directed to the Internet-based system. "At any time," he explains, "if there was a collapse, we would know what zone they are in."

Kentucky has approved the initial pilot's results, and the system must now receive MSHA approval before FTI can commence marketing it to Kentucky mines. FTI first began discussing such a system with the state approximately two years ago, according to FTI's president and CEO, George Livergood.

"We started looking at RFID companies, and we came across Axcess and liked the technology path they were taking," Livergood says. "That was when we hooked up with them [Axcess and Architron]. With this system, you could be in a conference room in Kentucky and see a miner down in a tunnel in Missouri."

The FTI software system displays a list of employee names, and when a name is selected, it also provides pictures and other details about that particular miner. While awaiting MSHA approval, Livergood says, researchers plan to spend several more weeks working out the mounting of the nodes on tunnel walls. The nodes must be installed within 3 inches of the ceiling, he says, noting. "We've proven without a doubt that wireless mesh works."

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