Patent application title: ELECTRONIC BLASTING SYSTEM
Charles Michael Lownds (Aurora, CO, US)
IPC8 Class: AF23Q1300FI
Class name: Electricity: electrical systems and devices igniting systems for explosive devices
Publication date: 2010-12-30
Patent application number: 20100328838
An electronic blasting system comprising: a plurality of electronic
detonators; and a blasting machine, a function of which is to transmit
information to and/or receive information about one or more of the
plurality of electronic detonators, wherein the blasting machine is
adapted to perform this function under voice control.
1. An electronic blasting system comprising:a plurality of electronic
detonators; anda blasting machine for transmitting information to and/or
receiving information from one or more of the plurality of electronic
detonators,wherein the blasting machine is adapted to function under
voice control so as to cause the blasting machine to transmit information
to and/or receive information from one or more of the plurality of
2. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1 comprising a microphone in communication with the blasting machine.
3. An electronic blasting system according to claim 2, wherein the microphone is provided on a headset or helmet.
4. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, wherein the blasting machine is adapted to seek confirmation from a blast operator of a voice input command that has been received prior to implementation of that command.
5. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, wherein the blasting machine includes logic functionality that enables a voice input command received from a blast operator to be compared against a registry of stored commands, that enables the registry to be searched for a stored command that most closely matches the said voice input command received, and that enables the blasting machine to relay the said stored command to the blast operator for confirmation that the said stored command reflects correctly the voice input command, and wherein if it is not possible to match the said voice input command with one stored in the registry, this is communicated to the blast operator with a verbal request or identifier for the voice input command to be repeated.
6. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, further comprising a device that has voice synthesis functionality.
7. An electronic blasting system according to claim 6, wherein the voice synthesis functionality is associated with or consequential on a voice command directed to the blasting machine that is operable under voice control.
8. An electronic blasting system according to claim 6, wherein the device and blasting machine are the same piece of equipment, and the voice synthesis functionality is used to acknowledge receipt of a voice input command and to indicate that the command is being actioned, to request a voice input command to be repeated and/or to prompt further command as might be required.
9. An electronic blasting system according to claim 6, wherein the voice synthesis functionality is used to generate a warning message.
10. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, wherein the blasting machine comprises as a security/safety feature voice recognition analysis functionality in order to limit operation of the blasting machine to authorized personnel.
11. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, wherein the blasting machine comprises memory means for storing voice commands that have been received by the blasting machine.
12. An electronic blasting system according to claim 11, wherein unauthorized attempts to use the blasting machine trigger an alarm and/or lead to shutdown of the blasting machine thereby rendering the blasting machine inoperable.
13. An electronic blasting system according to claim 1, wherein the blasting machine is a portable device that is intended to transmit information to and/or receive information about a particular detonator when the portable device is associated with that detonator.
14. A blasting machine for transmitting information in and/or receiving information from one or more electronic detonators when the one or more detonators are operatively associated with the blasting machine, wherein the blasting machine is adapted to function under voice control so as to cause the blasting machine to transmit information to and/or receive information from one or more of the electronic detonators when the one or more electronic detonators are operatively associated with the blasting machine.
15. A method of blasting in which a blasting machine as claimed in claim 14 transmits information to and/or receives information from one or more detonators, with the transmission and/or receipt of the information being caused by voice control of the blasting machine.
This application is a Continuation of co-pending application Ser.
No. 11/605,390, filed on Nov. 29, 2006, the entire contents of which are
hereby incorporated by reference and for which priority is claimed under
35 U.S.C. §120.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to an electronic blasting system for use in blasting operations, for example in mining and quarrying. The present invention also relates to a method of blasting involving the electronic blasting system. The present invention further relates to components of the electronic blasting system.
In general terms electronic blasting systems are well known in the art. A characteristic of such systems is the use of electronic delay detonators to achieve precise detonation, and preferably these detonators are fully programmable with respect to detonation delay time. The use of such detonators affords significant benefits in terms of blast control and design.
A blasting system using electronic delay detonators involves a variety of control equipment in order to implement successfully a pre-determined blast design and to initiate a blast according to that design. Invariably, operation of the control equipment requires a blast operator to use his/her hands to press buttons and/or perform keystrokes. Even when a skilled blast operator is involved, operation of control equipment in this way can be a source of errors. This is especially so in the field when the control equipment is being operated under difficult conditions, such as when it is wet or humid and/or when ambient light levels are low. Errors can also occur when a precise, and possibly complex, combination of keystrokes, or the like, is required to implement some equipment functionality.
Furthermore, use of conventional hand-operated control equipment invariably requires the blast operator to look at what he/she is doing to ensure that the correct buttons or keys are being pressed at the appropriate time. In addition, the blast operator is inevitably distracted when reading (LCD) display screens which are characteristic of control equipment in common usage. This can be especially problematic in dusty and/or wet conditions and/or when visibility is poor. It should also be noted that LCDs tend to perform badly in cold conditions, such as might be encountered in locations such as Canada and the US. All of these factors can mean that this kind of equipment is concentration/attention demanding to operate, and this can detract from other important roles the blast operator may have, such as observation and control of explosives loading.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Against this background it would be desirable to provide an electronic blasting system that reduces or obviates these drawbacks.
Accordingly, the present invention provides an electronic blasting system comprising:
a plurality of electronic detonators; anda blasting machine, a function of which is to transmit information to and/or receive information about one or more of the plurality of electronic detonators,wherein the blasting machine is adapted to perform this function under voice control.
Herein the term "blasting machine" embraces any type of (electronic) device that is used in an electronic blasting system and that is capable of being in signal communication with one or more electronic detonators being used. The blasting machine may be in direct communication with one or more of the electronic detonators or the blasting machine may communicate with one or more of the electronic detonators indirectly via one or more intermediate devices. The blasting machine may be in signal communication with one or more of the electronic detonators in order to send various command signals, such as ARM, DISARM and FIRE signals and/or to program the detonators with detonation delay times and/or identification codes. Alternatively, or additionally, the blasting machine may be capable of receiving information from one or more of the electronic detonators. This information may include the identification code and/or detonation delay time assigned to individual detonators or the status of detonators, for example to confirm that the detonators are ready to be fired. The functionalities described for the blasting machine are not intended to be limiting, and other functionalities will be apparent from the following description of the invention.
The present invention resides in the use of a blasting machine that may be operated by a blast operator under voice control in order to carry out some required action in the context of operating the electronic blasting system. Use of a blasting machine that is voice operable reduces the need for the blast operator to use his/her hands for operation of the device. As will be appreciated from the preceding discussion, this has significant practical advantages. The function of the blasting machine with respect to the one or more electronic detonators used in the blasting system may be conventional. However, the fact that this function is voice controlled in accordance with the invention is believed to represent a significant departure from the state of the art.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Embodiments of the invention will be discussed with reference to the accompanying non-limiting figures in which:
FIG. 1 is a schematic representation of an electronic blasting system in accordance with the present invention; and
FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating the kind of steps associated with operation of an electronic blasting system in accordance with the present invention.
To enable the blasting machine to be operated under voice control the blast operator may speak into a microphone in communication with the blasting machine. This microphone may be provided on a headset or helmet to be worn by the blast operator. The microphone may be connected to the blasting machine by a wire. Alternatively, wireless technology may be used to relay voice input at the microphone to the blasting machine. In this case conventional wireless technology protocols and componentry may be used, such as Bluetooth®. Depending upon context the blast operator may be in close proximity to the blasting machine during operation of it. Alternatively, the blast operator may operate the blasting machine from a location remote from it. This may be required for safety reasons. In this case voice commands from the blast operator may be relayed to the blasting machine by a hard (wire) connection or using wireless technology.
When selecting a microphone, the signal-to-noise ratio of the sound pick up of the microphone may be an important consideration, also taking into account background noise. If the signal-to-noise ratio is low the error rate in identification of voice commands will also be low. Typically, the microphone will be positioned close to the blast operator's mouth in order to provide clean conveyance of voice commands.
The blasting machine is adapted to operate as required on the basis of electrical signals generated in response to voice input at the microphone used by the blast operator. To facilitate this the blasting machine will be equipped with some form of voice recognition functionality. Alternatively, the blasting machine may have associated with it a device that has voice recognition functionality and that is adapted to control the blasting machine in response to voice commands. For ease, in the following reference will be made simply to the blasting machine in this regard.
The complexity of the voice recognition functionality of the blasting machine will vary depending upon the number of tasks that are required to be performed under voice control. Thus, where the blasting machine is required to perform limited tasks under voice control, the voice recognition functionality may be relatively basic. On the other hand, in more complex systems, where the blasting machine may be required to perform a variety of different tasks under voice control, the voice recognition functionality must be sufficiently sophisticated in order to distinguish between different voice commands. One skilled in the field of voice recognition systems would understand how this may be achieved in practice. Here it should be noted that the ability of the human voice to convey a high density of information is a distinct advantage over conventional (manual) systems where possibly complex combinations of keystrokes may be called for in order to distinguish as between different functionalities of the equipment. The error rate associated with operation of the blasting machine is likely to be lower when the number of words required to be recognised is low.
The registry of commands to which the blasting machine will respond may be pre-programmed into the electronics of the blasting machine. The blasting machine may be configured to operate over a number of different languages with the blast operator selecting his/her language of choice. Alternatively, the blasting machine may be tailored (programmed) to respond to commands from a particular blast operator, i.e. the registry of commands will be configured by the blast operator who will use the device in the field. This may enhance operation of the blasting machine under voice control and operating errors may be reduced.
To eliminate the possibility of operating errors, the blasting machine may be adapted to seek confirmation from the blast operator of a voice input command that has been received prior to implementation of that command. A miniature speaker or earpiece provided on the headset or helmet used by the blast operator may facilitate this. In this embodiment the blasting machine will invariably include logic functionality that enables a voice command received from the blast operator to be compared against a registry of stored/actionable commands. In response to a voice input command the registry is searched for a stored command that most closely matches the input command received. The blasting machine may then relay the matched registry command to the blast operator (via the speaker or earpiece) for confirmation that the matched command reflects correctly the actual input command. If it is not possible to match a voice input command with one stored in the registry, this may be communicated to the blast operator with a verbal request, or identifier (eg. a tone), for the voice command to be repeated. By proceeding in this way operating errors can be avoided. Again, conventional voice recognition technology may be used to achieve this capability.
In a preferred embodiment of the present invention the electronic blasting system includes a device that has voice synthesis functionality. Preferably, this functionality is associated with or consequential on a voice command directed to the blasting machine that is operable under voice control. In one embodiment, the device and blasting machine are the same piece of equipment, and in this case voice synthesis may be used to acknowledge receipt of a voice input command and to indicate that the command is being actioned, to request a voice input command to be repeated (for confirmation purposes) and/or to prompt further command as might be required. For example, this aspect may be useful in the context of wireless detonator assemblies including a charge storage device for discharge into a firing circuit upon receipt of an appropriate FIRE command from an associated blasting machine, as described in applicant's co-pending U.S. patent application No. 60/662,806, the content of which is herein incorporated by reference. Here the wireless detonator assembly may be configured to discharge in a benign manner, i.e. without firing the detonator, unless a specific "keep alive" signal is received. In accordance with this aspect of the invention the blasting machine may remind the blast operator to send an appropriate "keep alive" signal to a wireless detonator assembly if the wireless detonator assembly is to remain in a ready-to-fire condition. This reminder may be triggered by a signal from the wireless detonator assembly to the blasting machine or it may be generated after a specific period of time from an original command to charge the charge storage device or from the last "keep alive" command sent to the wireless detonator assembly.
In a preferred aspect of this embodiment, the voice synthesis functionality is used to generate a warning message. A voice message may have more significance to and impact on a blast operator than some other warning indicator, such as a flashing light or alarm.
In another embodiment the blasting system may include some other device, i.e. distinct from the blasting machine, that generates a message or warning. Preferably, this other device is equipped with voice synthesis functionality. In this embodiment the device generates a message as a consequence of some function performed by the blasting machine. For example, where the blasting machine is commencing a particular step, such as detonator charging, it may be appropriate for this fact to be relayed as a message, preferably a voice message, to some other location at the blast site. The message might be generated at a central control station where progress of the blast implementation process is being monitored and controlled. Alternatively, or additionally, the function of the blasting machine may automatically trigger warning messages at various locations at the blast site, thereby alerting personnel about the progress of the blasting process. This may contribute significantly to the safety of the blasting process. One skilled in the art of blasting operations will understand that this embodiment of the invention may be used in a variety of ways.
By way of example, this embodiment may be incorporated in a blasting operation in which a (remote) central command station is adapted to transmit command signals to one or more blast boxes that are in signal communication with the central command station and with a group of electronic detonators. This type of arrangement is disclosed in WO 2004/020934. It would be useful in the context of this arrangement for certain functions of the central command station (operated under voice control) to trigger some (warning) message at the associated blast boxes, for example, to alert any personnel in the area that the step of charging the detonators is about to commence.
This embodiment of the invention may also be integrated as part of an otherwise conventional mine alarm system. Such mine alarm systems are well known in the art and have been commercialised by entities such as Mine Site Technologies. In this embodiment it will be appreciated that generation of the message(s) is contingent upon some functionality of the blasting machine being imminent, in process or complete.
In embodiments of the present invention that involve voice synthesis functionality, a voice message can be synthesised electronically or it can be a message compounded from a set of pre-recorded messages that are stored in the blasting machine. For example, and depending upon context, responses could be simple, like "yes" or they can be multi-digit numbers created by concatenation, or warning messages. In providing acknowledgment to the blast operator of some received command the need for the blasting machine to include a display that reflects operating status of the device may be removed. This can be a distinct advantage since LCD displays typically used in blasting equipment can be difficult to see in low light conditions and, moreover, tend not to function in cold climates (less than -15° C., say).
In a preferred embodiment, the blasting machine may comprise as a security/safety feature voice recognition analysis functionality in order to limit operation of the blasting machine to authorised personnel. The use of voice recognition analysis in this way can contribute significantly to security/safety, especially where critical functionality of the blasting machine, i.e. functionality necessary to initiate a blast, may only be implemented under voice control. In this way, unauthorised personal may be prevented from initiating a blast, even if they have access to the various componentry otherwise required.
For this aspect of the invention to be implemented, the blasting machine will comprise, or have associated with it, a voice analyser that is capable of comparing a voice input with a stored registry of voice inputs for authorised users. The voice analyser may be part of the blasting machine itself or it may be provided separately, and possibly remotely, from the blasting machine. One skilled in the art of voice recognition technology would be familiar with the kind of hardware and software required to implement such a system.
Other biometric feature analysis systems based on, for example, fingerprint, iris or retina recognition, may be used in addition to or as an alternative to voice recognition as a means of distinguishing between authorised and unauthorised users. However, as the blasting machine used in accordance with the invention is operable under voice control, it may be more convenient to rely on voice recognition analysis for security/safety purposes rather than some other biometric feature. Other aspects of the blasting system in accordance with the present invention may of course include security/safety measures based on analysis and recognition of one or more biometric features.
It may also be advantageous for the voice recognition technology associated with the blasting machine to comprise memory means for storing voice commands that have been received by the blasting machine. This may provide useful information as to how the blasting system has been used, for example for diagnostic purposes in the event of a misfire. This feature may also be used to check whether any unauthorised attempts to use the blasting machine under voice control have been made. Any unauthorised attempts to use the blasting machine may trigger an alarm and/or this may lead to shutdown of the blasting machine system thereby rendering it inoperable. To be useful in practice, an alarm should be triggered and/or the blasting machine shutdown only in the event of a series of unsuccessful/unauthorised attempts to use the blasting machine under voice control. In the event that the blasting machine is shutdown, it may be reactivated, typically by use of a secure access code.
Further details about the use of biometric features in order to provide increased security/safety to blasting systems is described in the applicant's co-pending U.S. provisional patent application No. 60/653,085, the content of which is incorporated herein by reference.
In the alternative, authorised use of the blasting machine may be controlled by use of other means, such as smart cards, and the like.
The function of the blasting machine that may be voice actuated/controlled may vary from system to system. However, in general terms the function involves the transmission of information to and/or the receipt of information about one or more of the electronic detonators. This information may comprise information necessary for implementation of the blasting process, such as detonator identity data and/or detonation delay time. Alternatively, or additionally, the information may comprise specific command signals relating to detonator functionality, such as ARM, DISARM and FIRE command signals.
It may be necessary to customise the blasting machine to one or more authorised blast operators to ensure that the voice recognition functionality of the blasting machine will operate as intended. It will also be appreciated that some training may initially be required to enable a blast operator to use an electronic blasting system in accordance with the present invention. Thereafter, however, it is believed that the present invention will enable blasting operations to be carried out with ease and in a safe and reliable manner.
In one embodiment, the blasting machine may be a portable device (or logger) that is intended to transmit information to and/or receive information about a particular (selected) detonator when the portable device is associated with that detonator. This may be a particularly useful application of the present invention since the portable device will be needed in field conditions and these may present difficulties for hand-operation of control equipment. In this context the term "associated" means that the portable device and detonator are brought together in order to allow the exchange of information to proceed. Information may be transmitted and/or received over a hard (wire) connection or using laser or wireless radio technology. The nature of the association called for will vary depending upon the particulars of the system. This will become apparent from the subsequent description of embodiments of the invention. Examples of the function that the portable device may perform under voice control are included below.
The portable device may be used to record the identity number of individual electronic detonators. Here individual detonators will have an associated tag that is readable digitally by the device. The tag will typically be associated with the detonator such that the tag will be accessible at the collar of a blasthole when the detonator has been deployed in the blasthole.
The tag may be a bar code that represents the identity number specific to a detonator with which the tag is associated. In this case the portable device is a bar code reader (scanner) that can read the bar code when brought into sufficiently close proximity with the bar code. The portable device may have a laser stripe for reading bar codes in low light conditions. The technology required to do this is well known, although in this embodiment reading of the bar code may be initiated under voice control. The portable device will store the identity number for later use, typically for downloading to the blast control unit for detonator programming.
In an alternative embodiment the tag may be a radio frequency (RF) tag associated with the detonator. The RF tag carries an identity number relating to the detonator and may be read by a suitable portable device. The basic technology required to do this is well known with respect to the tag and reader, although in this embodiment activation of the device to perform reading is voice activated. In a preferred embodiment the device may provide a voice synthesised status report, as mentioned above in connection with the bar code reader.
Alternatively, the portable device may need to be connected electrically (using wires) to the detonator, before or after deployment in a blasthole, for logging. The detonators may be connected to the device one at a time, logged and then disconnected, or they may be logged as they are connected for the first and last time to a harness wire. Logging takes place under voice control with the portable device preferably offering a verbal commentary to assist the logging process.
In all of these examples the identity number of an electronic detonator is pre-assigned and readable using a portable electronic device. The identity number will be stored for subsequent use and this will typically involve downloading of the identity numbers of an array of detonators to a remote central blast control unit to facilitate detonator programming. Here it is also necessary for the identity data of individual detonators to be associated with information relating to the respective locations of the detonators. The detonator location is important when firing times are not directly allocated to the detonators during logging since the detonation delay will vary between blasthole locations across the blast field.
Preferably, the location of a given detonator may be recorded and associated with the detonator identity number using the same portable device that is used for reading and logging the identity number. It is also preferred that the location of a given detonator (the identity data of which is being logged) may be stored or determined under voice control. Thus, at the time of logging detonator identity number the blast operator may also record, under voice control, the location of the relevant detonator. In one embodiment the portable device may be responsive to voice input giving details of the row and hole numbers of the detonator being logged and store this information as an electronic record that is paired with the detonator identity number. In an alternative embodiment the portable device may be adapted to record the absolute position of the detonator being logged and to this end the device may include GPS functionality. Preferably, location determination using the GPS functionality may be voice controlled. Again, for the purposes of the central blast control unit it is important for the identity number and location information relating to each detonator to be recorded as an association of data that characterises each detonator.
In another embodiment the identity number is assigned to each detonator at the time of its use, i.e. the identity number is not pre-assigned. In this case a function of the portable device is to communicate the identity number to the detonator for storage in a memory unit in electronic circuitry of the detonator. This may require some form of wire connection between the portable device and the relevant detonator the portable device and detonator may be adapted to communicate wirelessly. Once a suitable "connection" between the portable device and the detonator has been established programming of the detonator with an identity number may be initiated under voice control. The portable device will also record the identity number allocated as well as information as to detonator location. This latter functionality may be achieved as described above.
In the various embodiments described above, the blast operator controls function of the portable device under voice control. In a preferred embodiment, the portable device also has voice synthesis functionality and is able to "answer" the blast operator with voice messages, in order to provide useful information. This may include the generation of warning messages relating to the occurrence, or non-occurrence, of various events in the process. The ability of the blasting machine to "answer" the blast operator is also useful as it may then be possible to avoid the need to use traditional LCD displays and/or to rely on "beeps" of various tones and lengths to communication information to the blast operator, as might be required during use of the portable device. For example, when the blast operator commences logging of a particular row of detonators/blastholes, the portable device is able to recognise the progression and offer by synthesised voice an update as to hole number each time the blast operator logs a detonator. A voice message, such a simple "yes", may be generated by the portable device as confirmation that a hole has been logged correctly, thereby allowing the blast operator to move onto the next hole with confidence. In the same way GPS coordinates may be interpreted via a stored blast plan into row number and hole number and offered to the blast operator (by synthesised voice) for confirmation.
In the embodiments described the intended result is that the blast operator has an electronic record of the identity number and location of each detonator in the entire blast field. As noted, preferably the identity number and location are stored as an associated pair by the portable device used for reading or assigning detonator identity number. After the detonators have been characterised in this way, the portable device may be interfaced with a blast control unit in order to download information about the detonators (i.e. identity number and location). In turn this allows each detonator to be programmed by the blast control unit with a detonation delay time. Alternatively, interfacing of the portable device with a central blast control unit may be via electrical connection (wires or docking) with the data remaining in the portable device but accessible by the blast control unit for programming of detonators. These general approaches are in themselves well known and one skilled in the art would be familiar with the equipment and methodology to be used.
In yet another embodiment the portable device may be operated under voice control to program individual detonators with a detonation delay time based on the position of the detonators in the overall blast pattern. This may involve some form of hard (wire) connection between the portable device and the (electronic circuitry of the) detonator, although this could be achieved using wireless technology. In practice a blast operator will move from blasthole to blasthole using the portable device to allocate a predetermined detonation delay based on detonator location.
Preferably, in this embodiment the portable device includes an electronic record of the detonation delay based on location and allocates the relevant delay in response to an input as to location. This may be achieved by voice input by the blast operator, such as by reference to the row and hole number being visited. In this case it may be helpful for the portable device to report by synthesised voice the delay time that is applicable to a particular detonator based on location. Alternatively, the location may be determined automatically using a GPS system. Preferably, the GPS functionality is provided for in the same portable device that is used for detonator delay time programming. It is also preferred that determination of location by the GPS system is voice activated. Using this particular embodiment to program the detonators it may be sufficient for the blast operator to connect or associate the portable device with a selected detonator (as required For detonator programming) and then initiate location determination by suitable voice command. The portable device then determines the location of the detonator and programs it with a detonation delay time based on an electronic record of location/intended delay time that has been pre-programmed into the portable device. The portable device could confirm by a suitable voice message or tone that programming has been successful. As will be appreciated this would enable rapid and easy detonator programming.
As alluded to above, even though it is not required for programming of detonator delay time, it may be useful to allocate an identity number to each detonator to permit some form of centralised control by a blast control unit. This may be helpful when it comes to pre-blast testing of the detonators and/or re-programming of detonators as might be required. If required, the portable device may also therefore be used to assign detonator identity number, as described above. Preferably this can also be done by appropriate voice command from the blast operator under voice control. It is unlikely that the blast operator would actually read out the number to be assigned--stored identity numbers may be allocated incrementally, for example. After the detonators have been allocated identity numbers, this information together with location can be downloaded to the blast control unit for subsequent use.
When the portable device is adapted to communicate audible signals or messages to the blast operator this may be done via a miniature speaker or earpiece provided on the headset or helmet used by the blast operator. This will be in communication with the portable device in the same way as the microphone, i.e. using a wire connection or a wireless communication protocol. In this embodiment it is preferred to use a single earpiece since this will enable the blast operator to fulfil his primary role of observation and control. In turn this will enhance the safety of blasting operations and improve the reliability of blast programming using electronic detonators.
The portable device may interface with the blast control unit in conventional manner. Usually, this will be done by suitable wire connections from an output terminal of the portable device to an input terminal of the blast control unit. The blast control unit may communicate as required with individual detonators using the detonator identity numbers. This functionality may be implemented under voice control. Alternatively, the blast control unit may communicate with all detonators at the same time, for example when issuing a PREPARE TO FIRE, FIRE or DISARM command. This may be done over a wired network in which individual detonators are connected by wires to a surface harness that itself is connected to the blast control unit. Alternatively, the blast control unit and detonators may be adapted to communicate with each other over a wireless network. One skilled in the art would appreciate how this may be done.
The present invention may be implemented by the adaptation of known electronic blasting components (blasting machines) to include the necessary voice recognition, and possibly voice synthesis, functionality. Alternatively, the components may be designed and constructed afresh.
The present invention also provides a blasting machine, as described herein, for use in an electronic blasting system of the invention.
The present invention further provides a method of blasting which comprises use of an electronic blasting system in accordance with the present invention. The crux of this aspect of the invention is the use of a blasting machine, a function of which is to transmit information to and/or receive information about an electronic detonator with which the blasting machine is associated, the blasting machine being adapted to perform this function under voice control.
Embodiments of the method and blasting machine of the invention will be apparent from the discussion herein of the corresponding blasting system.
FIG. 1 shows an electronic blasting system 1 in accordance with the present invention. The system 1 includes a blast control unit 2 that is connected via a surface harness 3 to a plurality of electronic detonators 4. The detonators 4 are connected to the surface harness 3 by downlines 5. In use the detonators will be provided in blastholes (not shown) and the blastholes loaded with bulk explosive. Each detonator 4 may have attached to it a tag 6 including an identity number specific to the detonator to which the tag 6 is attached. The tag 6 may be a label including a bar code or an RF tag. In use the tag 6 will be provided at the collar of a blasthole (for access) when an associated detonator has been deployed.
The electronic blasting system 1 also includes a portable electronic device 7 that is carried by a blast operator 8. There is a communication link 9 between the blast operator 8 and the portable device 7 by which the blast operator 8 can communicate with and control a function of the portable device 7 by voice. The link 9 may be a wire connection or a wireless link. The blast operator 8 is provided with a headset (not shown) including a microphone and an earpiece. The portable device 7 is adapted to receive electrical signals generated by the microphone in response to voice commands by the blast operator 8. These signals are relayed to the portable device 7 over the communication link 9. The portable device 7 can communicate audible signals to the earpiece over the same communication link 9, as may be required. As noted previously, as an alternative, the portable device may have voice synthesis/generation functionality in order to communicate information to the blast operator 8.
The portable device 7 is adapted to log the identity number of individual detonators 4 via the tag 6 associated with each detonator 4. In the embodiments shown the device 7 will be a bar code reader or RF logger. In preparing a blast the blast operator 8 moves from detonator 4 to detonator 4 logging the identity number associated with each. Logging is achieved using the portable device 7 which is operated under voice control by the blast operator 8 over the communication link 9. It is also necessary to record the location of each detonator 4 and for the location to be paired with the detonator identity number. To this end the portable device 7 may be adapted to record location information input by the blast operator, possibly under voice control. Alternatively, the portable device 7 may include GPS functionality so that the location of each detonator 4 being logged can be determined and stored. In this case, it is preferred that the GPS functionality of the device 7 is activated by an appropriate voice command by the blast operator 8.
After all of the detonators 4 in the blast field have been logged in this way the portable device 7 is interfaced with the blast control unit 2 and information (identity number and location) about each detonator downloaded. The interface is typically a wire connection between the device 7 and control unit 2. The blast control unit 2 is then able to communicate with individual detonators 4 using the individual detonator identity numbers as addresses. In this way the detonators 4 may be programmed with detonation delay times. The blast control unit 2 may also communicate with individual detonators 4 to perform other functions including, for example, diagnostic testing. Of course, the blast control unit 2 is also used to prepare the detonators 4 for firing by transmission of appropriate signals across the surface harness, and for firing the detonators 4. If required, the blast control unit 2 may also disarm the detonators 4 after they have been armed for firing, as may be required.
FIG. 2 represents the kind of steps that may be performed in operating the portable device 7 under voice control. Thus, on detection of a voice command (step 100) via the microphone, the portable device generates and stores in a suitable memory module an electronic representation of the voice command (step 102). This representation is then compared with a stored registry of commands which the portable device recognises as actionable (step 104). If the voice command received by the portable device matches a command in the registry of stored commands, the device is activated and performs the requisite function (step 108). Although not shown in FIG. 2, the portable device may seek confirmation from the blast operator that the command identified in the registry is the intended command, and this may be done by relaying a suitable message or signal to the earpiece worn by the blast operator. The blast operator may, for example, be invited to confirm the command with a simple YES or NO answer. This answer will be processed using a similar approach by the portable device in order to verify the action to by undertaken. After the portable device has undertaken the action required, a confirmation message or signal to this effect may be transmitted to the blast operator (step 110).
In the event that the voice input command received by the portable device cannot be matched to a Command in the registry of stored commands, the portable device may send a message or signal to this effect to the blast operator via the earpiece (step 106). The voice command can then be repeated until the blast operator can confirm that the portable device will put the correct functionality into effect.
It will be appreciated that to operate in this way the portable device will include voice recognition componentry and software and logic functionality. These aspect are individually known in the art for use in other voice operated systems. The present invention may be used with any voice recognition and logic technology provided the principles associated with the present invention are observed.
Patent applications by Charles Michael Lownds, Aurora, CO US