January 10, 2018 / Modified jan 11, 2018 2:18 p.m.

Team Creates 'Canary in the Mine' Sensor to Make Worksites Safer

UA faculty's high-tech system can warn of impending health dangers and hazards.

Mines, Mining, Ray Mine hero Tailings piles at the Ray Mine Complex north of Tucson. (PHOTO: AZPM Staff)

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Mining engineering faculty at the University of Arizona have developed a high-tech system to help prevent accidents in mines, at construction sites and during natural and human-caused disasters.

Moe Momayez said accidents and injuries in the mining and construction industries cost billions of dollars a year. He and his colleagues used off-the-shelf components to create a way to help keep workers safe.

He uses a 19th-century idiom to describe the 21st century technology.

"It is the canary in the mine with a lot of bells and whistles."

Momayez said workers can wear sensors, slightly larger than a quarter, that can monitor vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate and warn of impending health dangers. The sensors can be affixed at a job site to warn workers of approaching vehicles, high-voltage hazards or even the potential for falling rocks in an underground mine.

The system also can become a communication channel for workers and first responders.


Mining sensor hero University of Arizona mining engineering professor Moe Momayez holds a sensor developed to warn miners and other workers of hazardous conditions. (PHOTO: Sara Hammond, AZPM)

"In the case of a disaster when all communications go down, with this device, if you are trapped inside a mine, you can make a call from your walkie-talkie to 911," he said.

Momayez and his partners also founded a small company, GUIA, or "guide" in Spanish, to continue to improve and market the warning system.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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