US institution to develop safer drones for mine inspections

University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) electrical engineering professor David Wetz and New Mexico Tech are developing a safer battery for mine and hazard inspection drones.

The team will look to develop a battery that cannot cause sparking which is particularly dangerous for mines filled with hazardous gases including methane.

Methane leaks have shown to be a fatal issue in coal mines across Australia.

According to the University of Texas, Wetz will be designing the battery to meet power and energy demands.

Wetz will also work on a composite frame structure to house the battery and other electrical components in the drone.

Drones are used for a variety of reasons on mine sites including site exploration, inspection and safety checks.

A common use-case for drones on a mine site is to provide a bird’s eye view of the site remotely to keep workers out of danger, which was particularly sought after due to hard border closures from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Batteries, motors and other electronic parts can spark, so everything has to be safely enclosed so that no sparks can escape,” Wetz said.

“Building a rugged enclosure adds weight to the drone, so there is a balance in how to safely contain any potential problems and ensure that the battery doesn’t become excessively large to maintain the flight time of the drone.

“Together, our team will investigate the design of a composite structure that will make the drone explosion-proof should anything go wrong.”

UTA electrical engineering department chair Diana Huffaker said the sparkless electrical system will provide advancements to drone technology.

“I’m enthusiastic about our contributions to the vigorous growth of alternative energy sources and unmanned vehicle systems,” Huffaker said.

“The fact that Dr Wetz is merging the two to make a sparkless electrical system that will allow drones to inspect mines is unique and exciting.”

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