Meet Mark, our superhero robot
He’s smart, he’s tough, he keeps us safe – and bonus, he saves us money too
Meet Mark. He lives in Utah, and likes pizza, soccer games at Rio Tinto Stadium and long walks on the beach.
But he loves danger.
Mark, who was named after Iron Man’s second suit of armour, goes into risky places at Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon copper mine, in Utah, in the Western United States, so our people don’t have to.
People tell me it’s dangerous, but honestly, I like it. Maybe I was just born to be wild.
Mark’s the newest member of our remote operated vehicle (ROV) team, who actually designed and built him – they’re like Mark’s mom and dad. Mark was designed specifically for the mine’s needs – and created using just an over-the-counter rock crawler (a type of all-terrain vehicle), formidable engineering skills and a 3D printer.
Mark is as talented as he is tough. He can squeeze into small spaces, travel over tricky terrain and manoeuvre inside machinery. Oh, and did we mention he can swim? Mark keeps himself in pretty good shape, travelling more than a kilometre away from his team and lasting for hours on a single battery charge.
“He’s our little superhero – there’s not much this guy can’t do. We’re thinking of making him a cape next,” says Mark’s “dad” and inventor Matt Key.
And he’s got brains too. He can test oxygen levels, collect soil and water samples, and will someday be able to measure tunnel dimensions using lasers.
“Mark and his older brother Oscar (also a robot) are already making a huge difference inspecting Kennecott’s network of old underground mining tunnels. The tunnels aren’t used for mining anymore, but we map them to make sure we don’t inadvertently put people or machinery on unstable ground. Mark uses high definition video and other high-tech equipment to inspect the tunnels, check oxygen levels and look for other possible hazards before we send people in,” Matt said.
“He could also help in an emergency. If there was a gas release underground, we could send Mark in to take samples or drop off medical supplies and equipment while the emergency response team is suiting up.”
About Mark's "dad"
It’s pretty amazing what you can create with engineering know-how, a 3D printer and some inspiration from a Marvel comic.
“We named him Mark II after the Marvel superhero Iron Man’s second suit of armour,” says Matt, who trains all of the drone pilots at Rio Tinto Kennecott.
Mark can help the mine operate more efficiently too.
Checking parts inside big machinery like a grinding mill would normally mean shutting it down for four hours, pulling it apart, and sending people inside to do an inspection. But using Mark and his flying drone sidekick Wilson (yep, named after Tom Hanks’s volleyball friend in Cast Away), the team can check machinery in under an hour and without pulling the mill open, saving time and money. And at a mine as big as Bingham, just a few minutes can be worth a lot.
And the best part? The team created Mark at a fraction of the cost – about US$10,000 – of buying a similar robot, which can run up to US$100,000.
“I’ve always been a sucker for a deal,” said Mark*. “Even when that deal is me.”
What Mark does next is really only limited by our imagination, and his.
* as imagined by Rio Tinto editorial staff