The ESA has recently released a small spin-off company that is going to help drivers around the world stay a little bit safer with the help of space age technology. EstrellaSat’s job is to create long-distance monitoring technology specifically designed to help predict the movements of drivers who work carting mine loads to and from important destinations, which in turn, can prevent serious accidents from happening. Jean Verhardt, CEO of EstrellaSat, used help from the ESA’s specialized Business Incubation Center located in Noordwijik, Netherlands in order to get EstrellaSat off the ground.
Much of the technology that will be used to prevent accidents will be taken from ESA space technology, as well as many of Verhardt’s personal technology developments created at the Business Incubation Center. This space age tech is going to involve high efficiency monitoring equipment tracking the movement of the trucks hauling massive loads from mines, as well as high sensitivity gyroscopes that can detect extremely subtle movements in each truck’s direction. Specifically, the gyroscopes are designed to pick up the several thousand movements which are linked to signs of fatigue in drivers, including slight shifts in steering, acceleration, and breaking.
The factors which make mine driving so difficult and deadly are quite serious, and have lead to hundreds of deaths in the past couple of years. Verhardt notes, “Sixty-five percent of serious accidents are caused by fatigue.” Many of the drivers throughout the mining world have to work long hours, often between 12 to 16 hours per shift. Due to the excessive lengths of time that they spend driving, fatigue is a very common problem – one that happens to be directly linked to approximately 65% of all accidents. With loads that these trucks carrying varying from 160 to 180 tons, there is little room for mistake, and even a simple swerve can cause fatal consequences. As a result, the need for better technology became apparent to those concerned about the drivers’ safety.
Currently, the fatigue-sensing technology is being tested in mines near El Brocal, Peru. So far, there has been much progress in terms of sensor data. However, there are still some major obstacles that EstrellaSat has to overcome before the technology can be sent out to the far reaches of the world. Scientists are still trying to figure out what is the threshold of fatigue that should alert drivers to take a quick break. Moreover, they are still unable to get much data due to the fact that Peru does not always have the 3G internet necessary in order to facilitate easy monitoring. So the company is working with ESA’s ESTEC space research and technology centre to use wifi and satellite in order to connect the sensors on the vehicles with the remote monitoring offices. This constant connection and streaming of data will allow staff in those remote offices the ability to monitor driver behavior in real-time.
The next phase of the project will be the development of vests to monitor temperature, heart rate and other physiological data to provide more accurate indications of driver fatigue.