China debuts AI-driven coal mine robot to inspect shafts, improve safety

Overhauls of the coal mining industry have picked up the pace with the advent of 5G, AI, cloud computing and IoT technologies.

China unveiled an AI-powered robot for coal mining applications on March 11, marking a gigantic step toward automating the country’s massive mining sector with homegrown autonomous robots.

The robot was introduced by China Coal Technology & Engineering Group, a state-owned mining heavyweight, at a conference in Shenyang, capital of northern China’s Liaoning Province.

The outgrowth of a partnership with Huawei Technologies, it comes with AI algorithms and machine vision cameras, which give the device an ability to identify objects down the mine shaft.

Equipped also with voiceprint recognition, the robot, called Ascend A1, offers a suite of solutions covering real-time monitoring and positioning. The robot will be used to conduct safety inspections.

It can navigate complex environments in a coal mine. Under the control of a fleet command and management system, the gadget is fit to perform tasks in tight spaces and on rough ground, like coal mine power station and water pump room.

The robot, with a blast-proof internal controller box and drive motor, also possesses multiple sensors, obstacle avoidance radars and cameras, enabling it to guide itself without clashing into hurdles.

The computer vision algorithms built into the robot analyze gathered image and data while on the go, predict looming danger, and send out warnings to evacuate.

These functions make the device suitable for carrying out inspection or gauging safety risks in hazardous and inaccessible sections of a coal mine.

China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, burning over 4 billion tons of the fossil fuel a year. Even though the nation is steadily weaning itself off the dependence on coal and shifting toward clean energies, coal still occupies a central place in its energy mix.

Over the years, the country’s coal mine operators are under mounting pressure to automate their operations to keep up with the changing times.

Concerns about coal mine safety have subsided over the past few years. In a sharp contrast, about two decades ago, the nation reported fatal coal mine accidents like explosion or collapse almost on a daily basis.

According to a set of guidelines issued by National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planner, and other ministry-level departments, the nation will realize basic intelligent operation for large and accident-prone coal mines by 2025.

As of 2035, almost all of the country’s coal mines will become intelligent, say the guidelines.

Overhauls of the coal mining industry have picked up the pace with the advent of 5G, AI, cloud computing and IoT technologies. Together they promise to enhance efficiency, automate tasks, improve safety and reduce carbon emissions, as part of a shift toward intelligent mining.

Intelligent mining has also been selected as one of the 10 exemplary AI application scenarios in a document released by the Ministry of Technology.

A raft of official policies heralds what observers say is a “golden period” for wider adoption of robotics and AI in coal mines, marked by more players coming on the scene and capital flowing into the sector.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at

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