UX-1Neo underwater robot to explore flooded underground mines

The researchers at the Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) of Portugal have developed UX-1Neo, a surveying robot to explore underground flooded mines and other underwater environments. With an ability to navigate autonomously for eight hours, the robot is the upscaling version of the former UX-1, developed in the UNEXMIN project (2016-2019).

The new exploration robot includes improved hardware and software, showing better performance in terms of reach and depth, as well as data acquisition, management, and processing.

The UX-1Neo is a spherical device about 70 centimeters in diameter and includes six cameras, 3D laser-based sensing systems, and acoustic sensors for mapping and imaging. The robot was developed with a new modular architecture, which guarantees high operability.

UX-1Neo underwater robot to explore flooded underground mines.
The robot includes six cameras, 3D laser-based sensing systems and acoustic sensors for mapping and imaging. Credit: INESC TEC

This autonomous underwater robot enables the exploration of flooded mines up to a thousand meters in depth, obtaining relevant information such as their structural state and map – and important geological information to determine the existence of mineral resources of economic interest – which would be more difficult and dangerous to obtain otherwise, leading to higher costs.

The Porto-based institute has tested the UX-1Neo submarine robot in the old mines of Urgeiriça, in Nelas, “with success.” During the tests, the vehicle was able to carry out a mapping of the environment with high precision, explained Alfredo Martins, INESC TEC researcher. These are the first tests of the robot developed in Porto, under the European project UNEXUP.

They also explained that many of the robot’s functionalities “are autonomous and give the vehicle the ability to identify obstacles in a very aggressive environment.” The work is still being done, and the team will continue to develop the robot.

The UX-1Neo underwater robot still has many tests ahead of it and is undergoing a lot of development so that it can be used more and more autonomously, identify the environment and obtain information that is increasingly valuable and of interest.

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