Unmanned Systems Technology Dec/Jan 2020 | Phoenix UAS | Sonar focus | Construction insight | InterGeo 2019 | Supacat ATMP | Adelan fuel cell | Oregon tour | DSEI 2019 | Copperstone Helix | Power management focus

82 I n Alberta, Canada, the petroleum extraction industry is one of the biggest contributors to the local economy, particularly in terms of mining bitumen, a heavy-grade hydrocarbon. However, as with other mining operations, the core processes involved in that also generate waste fluids, or ‘tailings’. These do not settle or evaporate – waste produced 30 years ago is still present in the ponds where they were first dumped. These ponds often cover several square kilometres, and as Alberta’s bitumen output increases, how to reclaim waste land remains unresolved. Government regulations now require companies to report on the condition of waste land and ponds, which in turn requires that the companies have the ability to take samples of tailings to measure their consistency and toxicity. This is also very useful for finding the best treatment methods, such as centrifuging or mixing the tailings with sand or polymers to make them less toxic. To access the tailings though, very shallow waters (and sometimes mud) must often be crossed, and until recently no vehicle – manned or otherwise – has been specifically designed for such operations. Jeeps, boats and barges are expensive to operate and could easily get stuck, exposing their crews to the potentially toxic chemicals. Therefore, to provide an unmanned solution to the problem, Copperstone Technologies – headed by CEO Craig Milne, president Nicholas Olmedo, chief engineer Jamie Yuen and CTO Michael Lipsett – was formed. Copperstone’s robotics technology uses a drivetrain suited to the unique terrain of the Alberta oil sands and other mine tailing deposits in Canada and around the world. “Really, anywhere where there’s shallow water or even beaches that need sampling, where survey equipment is safer and less costly to operate than manned boats or 4 x 4 vehicles, our vehicle provides an improvement,” Milne says. Rory Jackson explains how one company has tackled the problem of accessing mine waste dumps, by using screw-based propulsion Testing with a twist December/January 2020 | Unmanned Systems Technology