From wearables to autonomous drills, here’s how innovation is transforming mining

High-speed internet connections, artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning — technology is driving change in all areas of life.

One business among many looking to embrace this new era of innovation is Australia-headquartered mining giant BHP.

BHP is using everything from autonomous drills at iron ore mines to “smart caps” to analyze brain waves and monitor worker fatigue.

Diane Jurgens is BHP’s chief technology officer. “We’re fortunate (that), as one of the largest resources company in the world, we have deep access to technology in the resource industry,” she told CNBC’s Didi Akinyelure.

Jurgens added that because BHP was a large, global concern, it enjoyed access to technology in many markets and sectors. The business, she said, was looking at everything from wearables and voice activation to machine-learning.

One innovation being looked at was a fatigue management system. “If you’re driving and you get a little fatigued, normally what people do is they watch your eyeballs with cameras,” Jurgens said. “But what we’re working on is technology that actually looks at your physiology, your brain waves.”

This takes the shape of a device resembling sunglasses, which allows BHP to monitor when workers become tired.

Looking at the bigger picture, the potential of innovation within the mining sector to have positive effects is considerable, according to George Gradl, German tech business SAP’s global head for mining and metals industries.

“If we make mining more efficient, people who work in mining should have safer jobs and more long-term jobs, because if you do efficient mining you can also extend the life of a mine,” he said.

If mining became more efficient, Gradl added, then commodity prices could remain stable and would not necessarily need to go up.

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