A new robotic underwater mining vehicle prototype developed by Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) has successfully completed first phase of testing.

Featuring launch and recovery technology, the prototype has been developed as part of a viable alternative mine operating system (VAMOS) project, which aims to uncover underwater mineral resources.

Designed and built by SMD and its partners in the VAMOS consortium, the €12.6m prototype has undergone testing at an abandoned kaolin mine in Devon, UK.

SMD is the technical lead for the 42-month international research and development project, which is part-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

The new prototype machine planned to be further tested in different rock types at different water depths to assess its potential for industrial scale applications.

As part of this effort, the machine will undergo second testing phase at test site in Bosnia and Herzegovina in spring 2018.

SMD project director Stef Kapusniak said: “The performance of the system is based on proven remotely controlled underwater excavation techniques made possible by improvements in underwater positioning, navigation and awareness systems.

“It will provide a safer and cleaner option for extracting inland submerged mineral deposits. The technique is suitable for soft to medium strength rock in orebodies below the water table.

“We envisage application in the form of extensions to existing surface mines, re-opening of abandoned un-rehabilitated mines and direct application in previously unworked mineral deposits which are in hydrologically challenging ground.”

The VAMOS consortium includes BMT Group, Damen Shipyards Group, Instituto de Engenharia Sistemas e Computadores, Fugro EMU, Zentrum für Telematik, Montanuniversität Leoben, Minerália, Lda, Sandvik Mining and Construction and Geological survey of Slovenia.

Other members include La Palma Research Centre for Future Studies, European Federation of Geologists, Trelleborg Ede, Federalni zavod za Geologijo and Fondacija za obnovu I razvoj regije Vareš.