A system pioneering the use of wireless sensor networks to improve coal-mine safety has won the Best Innovation and Research division at the Hong Kong Information Communication Technology Awards.
The project, titled 'Coal mine surveillance with wireless sensor networks', was developed by University of Science and Technology assistant professor Liu Yunhao, of the computer science and engineering department, and doctoral student Li Mo.
The problem with previous sensors was their reliability, Mr Li said. 'What's more, even when irregularities are detected, it took the sensors a long time to deliver the information to all mine workers underground.'
The new system involves several nodes, each made of three parts: a microcomputer, a sensor and an antenna. Each one can detect and warn of irregularities in a coal mine, such as gas leaks, seeping water, and oxygen-enriched spots, Mr Li said.
The nodes then provide underground data to a central control room, which leads to the mapping of a possible escape route.
The research team has conducted tests at one of the mainland's largest coal-mine fields, in Inner Mongolia, for the past three years.
Asked the difference between this project and existing wireless network surveillance systems designed for coal mines, Mr Li said: 'As far as I know, we're the first in the academic circle to introduce wireless sensors to the system.
'We don't need to fix cables in the tunnels or around working faces underground, whereas the existing wireless connection relies highly on them to reach access points. That ensures us more flexible deployment.' Mr Li said the system would probably be manufactured, with the central government's sponsorship, in five to 10 years.
Department head Lionel Ni said the project's purpose was to reduce the number of deaths in coal-mine accidents, in which 3,786 people were killed on the mainland last year, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.