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Smart Rock Bolt Wins Prize at Designers of Things Conference

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

When it comes to Internet of Things products, most people would think of the Apple Watch or Fitbit fitness-tracking devices. A device aimed at the mining industry has proved to be a popular entry at the Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.

The Smart Rock Bolt designed by Jens Eliasson of Sweden’s Lulea University of Technology and others, along with Eistec, on Wednesday (December 2) received first prize in the IPSO Challenge competition put on by the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance, an award worth $10,000.

The low-power device can be driven into the rock walls of mines, and its sensors can report on movement within the rock, which can potentially warn of a collapse. Through 6LoWPAN technology, a capability in Internet Protocol version 6, the rebar sensors communicate with a network gateway, relaying information to a central command post.

The sensitivity of the sensors allows for detection of the movements by miners and machinery, according to Professor Eliasson, which can help direct underground traffic and – in the case of a collapse – can pinpoint where people are.

He said the designers and developers of the Smart Rockbolt are in discussions with mining companies on a long-term testbed for the technology.

There is the possibility that other sensors could be integrated into the Smart Rock Bolt, such as smoke sensors and gas sensors, which could warn miners if poisonous gases are building up in the mineshaft and let them know when such gases have subsided to a safer level.

The IPSO Alliance had its own sprawling booth at the DoT exposition to demonstrate the 10 semi-finalist entries in the IPSO Challenge, all of which were aimed at touting the usefulness of Internet Protocol in the Internet of Things.

Nicholas Ashworth, an IPSO Alliance board member and treasurer who also served as co-chairman of this year’s IPSO Challenge, said the organization received dozens of entries from around the world for the competition, which is in its third year and is sponsored by Google, Atmel, and others. He and other judges met on the day before DoT conference opened to pick the winners.

Second place, with a prize of $5,000, went to EISOX’s Intelligent Thermostatic Radiator Valve, while third place (worth $2,500) was claimed by MicroPnP’s IoT platform.

The IPSO Alliance was founded in 2008, according to Ashworth. “We were basically promoting the Internet of Things before the Internet of Things,” he said.

Internet Protocol technology has “35 years of development” behind it, he noted, which offers advantages not currently available through ZigBee, Thread, and other IoT protocols. “It’s a protocol soup,” Ashworth commented.

Eliasson said he has been at LTU since 2003. “We were doing IoT with Bluetooth sensors,” he noted. The university group later moved on to IPv6 and 6LoWPAN. IP offers low-power capabilities and interoperability, he added.

“The mines have adopted IP,” Eliasson said. “They’re using VoIP [voice-over-Internet-Protocol). They jumped on the bandwagon.”

Mine operators are closely watching the development of 5G wireless networks, the professor added, since it can be used on normal mobile phones.

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