mine workers on site in front of truck

Mining has played a pivotal role in the development of human civilization. Recent advances have considerable investment potential — particularly for artificial intelligence.

Amid the rocky outcroppings of a Southern African country sits the oldest mine in the world. First discovered in Eswatini in 1970, the Ngwenya iron mine is approximately 43,000 years old. Known for its large deposits of hematite, the mine began life as a source of red ochre before eventually being mined and smelted by the Bantu groups in 400 CE.

As you might expect, the mining practices of early humanity looked very different from the technologies and techniques leveraged today. Mine shafts were painstakingly cleared out either by hand or via the use of stone or bone tools, considerably limiting both their depth and scope.

Stone picks and shovels would eventually give way to metallic picks and hammers, which themselves would be replaced with the use of fire to weaken and crack rock that contained resource veins. Fire would eventually give way to black powder in the late Middle Ages.


Although highly dangerous, this was considerably more efficient than traditional techniques.

The next major development in mining technology came with the industrial revolution. The sector quickly became mechanised with the advent of motorised tools such as drills, lifts and pumps. These new developments not only made mining safer than before, but they also increased production and granted access to new resources.

Fast forward to today, and many believe that the sector has entered another industrial revolution. According to industrial information technology firm Hexagon (STO:HEXA-B), the fourth industrial revolution has just as much potential for innovation as the first. But whereas that revolution involved mechanization, this revolution is about something else entirely — data.

Mining 4.0

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • A mining company analyzes a claim through a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Its algorithms uncover resource deposits that would otherwise have gone unseen. And they do so faster than a human prospector ever could.
  • A worker extracts and transports material from an underground mine without ever setting foot in a tunnel. The autonomous mining technology they use is armed with sensors that send an alert the moment anything is amiss. The data generated from these sensors is fed to a cloud platform which then analyzes that data for insights around efficiency, safety and more.
  • A production facility processes, refines and prepares material for transport. This happens autonomously, with minimal environmental impact and no human intervention. When a part on the production line begins to fail, a replacement is immediately 3D printed.
  • A fleet of self-driving trucks transports materials from a production facility to all corners of the continent. These electric vehicles are both cost effective and sustainable. Each is also equipped with an array of sensors for unmatched fleet visibility.

These scenarios may sound outlandish at first, but the technology already exists to make each and every one of them a reality. Mining companies are constantly developing new technologies and innovations that are collectively bringing the industry into the future. Australia is one of several markets that exemplifies this evolution.

Smarter Down Under

Currently, many of the most innovative technology companies in the mining sector are either based in Australia or maintain a significant presence there.

For instance, Perth-based Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG,OTCQX:FSUMF) partnered with Aurora Labs (ASX:A3D) in 2018 to explore potential applications of 3D printing in mining. Fortescue, one of the world's largest producers of iron ore, is also a major proponent of sustainable production. More recently, it acquired Williams Advanced Engineering, a provider of high-performance battery and electrification technologies.

Meanwhile, robotics firm Nexxis announced the launch of its Magneto-EX robot in 2021. As the world's first EX-rated inspection robot, the prototype is designed to inspect potentially hazardous areas and confined spaces. According to Nexxis, its spider-like design and magnetic feet provide it with an unmatched degree of freedom in its exploration efforts.

Another Australian company, Universal Field Robots, provides high-resolution three-dimensional material models built from sensor data. It aims to equip smaller vehicles with autonomous features. The robotics incorporate an arm for movement, positioning and environmental manipulation.

As for autonomous vehicles, Australia is already a world leader in that field, complete with 575 autonomous mining trucks across the country. Canada, in second place, has only 143. All three of Australia's top mining companies currently use autonomous trucks to some degree, including Fortescue Metals, BHP (ASX:BHP,LSE:BHP,NYSE:BHP) and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO).

In 2020, SensOre (ASX:S3N) introduced a revolutionary new approach to mineral exploration and discovery. Traditional exploration relies on incremental decision making and limited data, while also being hobbled by human bias. SensOre believes that artificial intelligence and machine learning are the future. CEO Richard Taylor describes this combination as a means of “surgical exploration reducing costs, especially in drilling.”

SensOre engaged BHP as a client to support its exploration activity at the Nickel West operations in Western Australia in 2020. The agreement involves using SensOre’s discriminant predictive targeting (DPT) technology, along with its auxiliary systems, to target new deposit and commodity types. More than 250 million drill hole samples in Western Australia were extracted, cleaned and integrated using DPT.

Machines are capable of detecting patterns the human eye fails to notice. Artificial intelligence can process far greater volumes of data with far greater speed than the human brain. And such platforms fall prey to neither human bias nor a tendency for error.

It's hard to argue with the company's results thus far. Through SensOre's Data Cube approach to organizing geoscience data, it has already identified multiple high-potential nickel and battery minerals in Western Australia. The company has also formed partnerships with major mining companies like Barton Gold Holdings (ASX:BGD) and Deutsche Rohstoff.

The takeaway

For the mining sector, industry 4.0 is more than a buzzword. New and emerging innovations have the potential to increase production, promote safety, improve exploration and discovery and drive sustainability. These technologies together represent both the future of mining and a promising investment target.

This INNSpired article is sponsored by SensOre (ASX:S3N). This INNSpired article provides information which was sourced by the Investing News Network (INN) and approved by SensOre in order to help investors learn more about the company. SensOre is a client of INN. The company’s campaign fees pay for INN to create and update this INNSpired article.

This INNSpired article was written according to INN editorial standards to educate investors.

INN does not provide investment advice and the information on this profile should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security. INN does not endorse or recommend the business, products, services or securities of any company profiled.

The information contained here is for information purposes only and is not to be construed as an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of securities. Readers should conduct their own research for all information publicly available concerning the company. Prior to making any investment decision, it is recommended that readers consult directly with SensOre and seek advice from a qualified investment advisor.

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