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DOL/MSHA Media Advisory
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (202) 693-9423

Released Friday, May 30, 2003

Experimental Robot to Explore Underground Coal Mine

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. -- The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), along with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, will monitor the experimental launch of a self-propelled mobile robot to explore and map a 3,500-foot corridor in an abandoned coal mine in southwestern Pennsylvania. The experiment, sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, will take place at the Mathies Mine near West Elizabeth.

"MSHA is very excited to be a part of this experiment," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "As we now know, old mine maps are not always accurate. Since these abandoned workings can be vulnerable to flooding and other hazards, they may not be safe for miners to enter. If this technology works, there's no end to the possibilities for using robots underground."

The Groundhog robot, developed by students in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute's Mobile Robot Development course, will enter the idled Mathies Mine from the supply yard and travel to the site of a preparation plant more than a half-mile away. MSHA has granted an exception to certain mandatory safety standards to the mine in order for Carnegie Mellon to conduct the experiment. This variance was published in yesterday's Federal Register.

Groundhog's state-of-the-art, autonomous exploration and mapping software enables reliable and safe navigation despite ever-present mine hazards including, roof fall, abandoned equipment, and ponded water. It was developed in response to an incident at the Quecreek Mine near Somerset, Pa., last July, when nine miners nearly drowned when they breached the wall of an adjacent flooded mine that they thought was some distance away from where they were working.

Students conducted a demonstration of Groundhog last fall at an abandoned mine near Burgettstown, Pa. The robot, attached to a tether, traveled 150 feet into the flooded facility, which had been abandoned since 1920.