By Kim Hyun-cheol
Korean mining fields are likely to see a new army of remote-controlled robotic coal-miners in four years.
The state-run Korea Coal Corp. (KOCOAL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday with three Korean engineering institutions and companies, including the Korea Institute of Machinery & Materials, for the development of intelligent coal-mining robots in the science complex in Daejeon.
The robots will increase productivity by working around the clock and going deeper, which will reduce the risk of human losses from conventional mining, said the mining company. Research teams from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Hanbat National University will jointly work on the project with the goal of completing the development by 2012 with a budget of 3 billion won ($2.42 million).
If the project is completed, those "new miners" will be put to work in 2013 after six months of trial operation.
The robots will not only drill in mines but will up- and offload coal onto conveyers for transportation, with operators outside to control them remotely using a three-dimensional scanner attached at the back of the robots.
Currently, miners often go 2 to 7 kilometers underground to collect coal. Necessity for a mechanized coal-miner has been raised as miners can only work four or five hours a day.
The introduction of mining robots will raise productivity by 30 percent, creating 40 billion won in extra output per year, the company's research chief Kim Jae-ho said.
"The coal-mining robots are expected to change the concept of mines and working conditions as well as improving productivity," KOCOAL President Jo Gwan-il said in a statement.
Korea's coal industry has been in decline after years of exploitation, forcing miners to go deeper to get coal. However, this is adding to production costs, forcing many mining companies to suspend business.