High-tech refuge chambers, autonomous drilling rigs, and retrofitting truck autonomy 

Following an update on recent developments at the AARP, Ecosystem/Business Lead Renu Kannu introduced Brent Pearce from MineARC, Emily Scarlett from Tribe Tech, and Anthony Nieves from Aptella to a diverse group of attendees, including a delegation from the 3rd Digital Mines Conference. 

The day also featured a bus tour of the facility and field demonstrations of the innovators’ technology solutions, showcasing how automation and robotics are being used to add value and solve problems for local industry.

MineARC expands into robotics with innovation from its high-tech refuge chambers

MineARC Systems is a global leader in controlled environments and safety technologies across industries including underground mining, tunnelling, chemical processing, disaster relief and biotechnology.

It specialises in the manufacture of emergency refuge chambers, safe havens, disaster shelters, and grow chambers. MineARC also offers a range of remote monitoring, tracking and communications technologies designed for integration in industrial applications. Along with refuge chambers, their growing range of sensor devices are all made in-house in their state-of-the-art production facility in Kewdale. 

As a proud supporter of the AARP and a member of Core Innovation, Chief Innovation Officer Brent Pearce explained how the AARP is bridging the gap between MineARC’s in-house R&D and customer site testing. The facility provides a crucial testing ground with real-world conditions without disrupting customer operations, as well as an incubator for emerging technology.

Brent compared MineARC’s core product of world-class refuge chambers to underground lifeboats that provide controlled conditions in hazardous environments. Industry regulations require a refuge chamber every 750 meters underground, with capacity for all underground personnel. MineARC has delivered over 3,000 refuge chambers to market, predominantly in hard-rock mining and tunnelling, among other sectors.

In recent years, the company has focused on digital integration of the refuge chambers to provide data and telemetry for wider mine use. The chambers are permanently connected to power and air but are generally only used in rare emergencies. Around 2016, MineARC developed the Guardian Intelligence Network to continuously monitor gas both inside and outside the chambers, enhancing the value of the assets. 

The latest Guardian systems extend further into underground environments with a network of gas monitor nodes that detect gases like carbon monoxide, ammonia, and chlorine. Additionally, telemetry systems with ultra-wideband-based tracking help locate personnel underground and securely communicate this data to monitoring dashboards.

Innovation at MineARC now extends into the field of robotics, with the integration of their gas monitoring systems into 4-wheeled robotic droids in partnership with Australian Droid and Robot in Queensland. This collaboration aims to eliminate the need for personnel during routine gas monitoring and emergency gas detection.

Looking forward, Brent and his innovation team are exploring the implications of unmanned mines and what that would mean for MineARC refuge chambers. 

They are considering how advancements in automation and robotics could be an opportunity for MineARC to develop underground storage chambers for drones and robots to reside for access to power charging and network connectivity, conceptually referred to as “robot kennels”—a market they could readily serve.

Tribe Tech poised to deliver the world’s first fully autonomous drill rig in WA

Next up was Emily Scarlett, Business Support Services Manager at Tribe Tech Group, to present their disruptive drilling technology bringing automation to arguably one of mining’s toughest tasks: drilling exploration.

Founded by Charlie King in 2019, Tribe Tech aims to enhance safety and efficiency in the mining industry with the world’s first fully autonomous reverse circulation drill rigs, centered around their proprietary Tribe Technology Drilling System (TTDS). Based in Northern Ireland and Western Australia, their team of mechanical, electrical, and mechatronic engineers brings extensive expertise to clients globally.


Emily noted that since 2019 their team has logged over 150,000 engineering hours in development. The manufacture of their primary drilling rig is complete, with commissioning now underway in Belfast and system tests taking place at the AARP. Later this year a new rig is set to arrive in WA for deployment to a customer site—an exciting milestone for the Tribe Tech.

The company’s flagship product is the TTDS700 GC geological sampling system features automated drilling and sampling modules capable of reaching depths up to 700 meters. The complex software-driven electro-hydraulic mechanical system is designed to take field operators out of the line of fire in hot, noisy and dusty environments. This will improve working conditions, safety and productivity, enabling front-line workers to be redeployed to remote operator roles or maintenance teams.

The rig operates wirelessly 24×7 from a remote command hub up to 5 kilometres away, with plans to extend this range. Although designed for the Tribe Tech drill rig, the automated sampling system is also compatible with other drill rigs.

Tribe Tech’s vision is to eliminate high-risk manual labour from geological sampling through automation with the TTDS700 GC system, thereby increasing productivity, improving sample quality, and fostering a more diverse and stable workforce.

Despite supportive clients, iterative testing in a production environment on-site in the Pilbara is difficult and slow. Tribe Tech came to the AARP for the final optimisation of the TTDS700 GC, particularly focussing on the sampling process, significantly speeding up project completion.

Emily concluded her presentation by introducing Mechanical Engineering Manager Michael Kapfer, who discussed further innovations developed by Tribe Tech to enhance the sample collection process using the TTDS700.

Aptella and partners retrofit autonomous technologies to heavy vehicle fleets

Anthony Nieves, Aptella’s Monitoring Manager responsible for remote monitoring instrumentation for the structural integrity of fixed plant assets and slope stability, concluded the presentations by discussing the company’s involvement in robotics and automation technologies.  

Formerly known as Position Partners and rebranded as Aptella in February this year, the company employs 350 staff and distributes machine control and positioning systems across Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

Aptella offers a broad suite of positioning solutions, including fleet management, high-precision machine guidance, 3D laser scanners, and remotely piloted aircraft, serving the building, civil construction, mining and geospatial industries. Their customer solutions incorporate both third-party products and an expanding range of proprietary technologies, supported by an Australia-wide GNSS network.

Aptella’s cutting-edge solutions often involve partnerships with other innovative technology businesses. One such collaboration is with SafeAI to retrofit autonomous trucks, requiring automated data to be transmitted live from remote locations. 

Anthony was joined in his presentation by Ashley Richardson, Head of Product at SafeAI, and Phil Hendrickse, a Rajant mesh network support engineer. Together they retrofitted 100 mixed vehicles for MACA’s fleet at the Karlawinda gold mine in WA, creating one of Australia’s largest autonomous heavy equipment fleets.

Without Rajant’s robust network, which enables constant connectivity and high data throughput, Anthony emphasised that the MACA project would not be possible. Field infrastructure that provides interference mitigation, built-in redundancy and sub-millisecond latency is essential for mobile robotics.

As heavy vehicle manufacturers like Kamatsu introduce autonomous haulage trucks to market, Aptella’s non-invasive retrofitting solution offers a versatile alternative for enhancing existing fleet vehicles.

Ending the day with a facility bus tour and panel discussion

After the innovator presentations, attendees headed out to the AARP test beds for a demonstration of Aptella communication infrastructure by Haydn Gibson, supported by Phil Hendrickse from Rajant. The group then travelled by bus to Test Bed 5 to see the Tribe Tech TTDS700 GC drilling rig. They were also able to take a quick look at the IMDEX Blast Dog and Jevons autonomous robot. 

The day concluded with the presenting innovators gathering for a lively panel discussion, fielding a range of technical and business questions from attendees.

CORE Innovation Hub is the proud operator of the Australian Automation and Robotics Precinct managed by Development WA. Spanning 51 hectares, the AARP is Australia’s largest research and development testing, demo and showcase facility for automation, robotics, zero emissions and remote operations technologies. It hosts companies operating in the mining, resource and energy sectors with crossovers in agriculture, defence, space, construction, and logistics.

During the April Demo Day, attendees at the Australian Automation and Robotics Precinct were introduced to the game-changing technologies of another three local innovators.