This month, Global Business Reports interviewed Motion Metrics President and CEO Dr. Shahram Tafazoli as part of its Industry Explorations publication for British Columbia, Yukon and Vancouver as the World’s Mining Barometer 2017.
Global Business Reports (GBR) was established in 2001 to provide up-to-date, sector-specific information to over 17,000 players in the commodity industries. In this publication, GBR explains how Vancouver acts as a barometer for mineral exploration globally, and argues that advancements in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize operations have further cemented British Columbia’s status as a center for raising capital and networking. In his interview, Dr. Tafazoli explains how Motion Metrics has focused on research and development to weather the mining downturn and discusses the implications of bringing AI to the mining sector.
Motion Metrics performed well throughout the mining downturn, and the recent uptick in the market has confirmed the validity of our growth strategy. Mining operations are realizing that improving ore grades and cutting costs is no longer effective – they must harness the power of technology to control expenses and increase efficiency. “In the mining market, we have recently noticed more openness to new technology and more of a need for mining companies to improve their efficiencies,” says Dr. Tafazoli. “Good ore is getting increasingly difficult to access, and technology is needed to do this.”
As mining companies consider their options for innovation, Motion Metrics has focused its research and development efforts on one of the most promising fields in technology: artificial intelligence. “The purpose of artificial intelligence is to replicate human reasoning, but much faster,” Dr. Tafazoli explains. “Half of our staff is allocated toward research and development, with a particular focus on product development and expanding our market.” The company has assembled a deep learning team dedicated to enhancing all Motion Metrics products with machine learning technology, and is planning to enter the realm of autonomous mining within the next few years.
AI has historically been cost-prohibitive for small organizations, so Motion Metrics undertook an initiative to make their technology accessible to smaller mining companies. “Motion Metrics’ main focus has traditionally been on larger companies because that segment of the market is more lucrative,” says Dr. Tafazoli. “However, we eventually want all mines to be able to access our technology so we have developed a handheld fragmentation analysis device [called PortaMetrics™].” This device is an affordable addition to our product line, and has more than doubled Motion Metrics’ customer base. Despite depressed commodity prices, 2016 was Motion Metrics’ best year in terms of revenue. “We attribute this to a wider diversity of products and increased accessibility to our services,” says Dr. Tafazoli.
PortaMetrics™ is an affordable handheld fragmentation analysis device that has made Motion Metrics’ patented technology more accessible to smaller mines and doubled the company’s customer base.
When it comes to AI and automation, the elephant in the room is labour substitution; but Dr. Tafazoli doesn’t believe Motion Metrics’ products will reduce the number of mining jobs. “Our ultimate goal is not to eliminate jobs, but rather to enhance the quality of the more menial jobs and ultimately make these employees safer,” he says. Safety is a major issue in mining operations worldwide, and autonomous and semi-autonomous mining equipment can help mitigate some of the inherent risks.
Furthermore, Dr. Tafazoli believes that human-assisted artificial intelligence, where humans assist machine learning algorithms when they fail, will comprise most near-term use-cases for machine learning applications in mining. “This is where the menial, unsafe jobs will be re-allocated,” he says. Mining companies are under a lot of pressure from investors to increase safety measures and reduce the potential for accidents, so there are incentives for all parties to adopt AI-driven automation tools.
As optimism slowly returns to the mining sector and Vancouver affirms its status as a global mining hub, technology companies like Motion Metrics will encounter a variety of opportunities to improve safety and efficiency at mines worldwide. Although concerns over labour substitution and accessibility continue to plague the deployment of AI-driven automation at scale, thought leaders like Dr. Tafazoli present a strong rationale for believing the benefits outweigh the negatives.
To read the full interview, click here.