Rio Tinto buys smart glasses, more drones for mines

Rio Tinto invested in smart glasses, drones and cameras over the past year to enable staff to continue monitoring facilities while they were unable to attend sites due to Covid restrictions.

The miner disclosed the investments in its annual report [pdf], released today.

It said the technology investments were required as the company “changed the way we worked on the ground”.

“We increased our use of drones and mine pit cameras and introduced video headsets, so we could continue to conduct visual inspections of tailings facilities and equipment while complying with travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements,” the miner said.

“Drones and mine pit cameras [enabled us] to conduct monitoring activities, reducing the need to visit sites.”

Tailings are the leftover materials after valuable ore has been extracted and processed.

The miner briefly outlined some mine-specific use cases.

“At the Oyu Tolgoi underground project, we used Vuzix smart glasses – based on augmented reality – letting technical experts from all over the world work with local teams,” it said.

“We also continued to innovate as part of our broader health and safety programme: for example, our Weipa bauxite team in Queensland, Australia, designed a custom-made mechanical arm to open and close tailings valves, reducing the risk of injuries.”

Vuzix smart glasses were used in other industry settings impacted by Covid-19, such as for clinical training.