Piggybacking on an Autonomous Hauler: Business Models Enabling a System-of-Systems Approach to Mapping an Underground Mine

Repurposing LiDAR data in a mine

Remote-controlled and autonomous haulers will soon operate underground guided by LiDAR sensors. We envision reusing LiDAR measurements to maintain accurate mine maps to support both safety and productivity. This work proposes a system-of-systems solution and presents business models corresponding to four scenarios that could enable the vision.

This paper really ended up in the right category at the RE conference: the industry track. However, I’m not entirely sure the paper discussed requirements engineering enough to fit the RE community. On the other hand, I believe few software engineering communities are as open to “bigger picture” systems research as the RE people. My impression is that my presentation was appreciated, several questions and additional inquiries afterwards. Hopefully, it was not only because of the mining equipment and the video clip I showed from the Kankberg mine!

This paper originated in an opportunity to do some visionary work with some leftover money in the PIMM project: Pilot for Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining. Based on discussions on what reliable high-speed wireless communication in an underground mine could enable, we identified that combining existing systems into a system-of-systems would be a particularly promising possibility. Equally important, I literally got to work with a gold mine!

Reusing Lidar data to map the mine

The main idea in the paper is to solve a need by using a byproduct. Underground mines are dynamic structures – excavation inevitably means changing the spatial structure. However, not all changes are planned as there is always some movement in the mountain, e.g., stress and cracking. Safety always comes first in mining operations, thus it is critical to monitor changes in the spatial structure. Furthermore, detailed maps of the mine and the ore body are valuable also for the productivity of the mine. There is for sure a need for detailed maps of Kankberg.

A truck with a LiDAR device mounted in a cylinder case.

Boliden has a strategic goal to reduce the number of people working underground. One approach is to introduce remote-controlled or even autonomous vehicles. An underground mine means a dark driving environment, and LiDAR will be required to navigate. Such a LiDAR device is mounted in the cylinder (above the registration plate) in the picture. In the future, there will be an abundance of sub-centimeter LiDAR measurements in Kankberg – why not reuse those data to continuously update a detailed map? We propose a system-of-systems thinking in the underground mine.

What is the business case?

For the proposed system-of-systems to happen, someone must take lead in the development. But what is the business case that would motivate a player to invest? We developed four scenarios that could turn the vision into reality.

In Scenario In-house, Boliden takes on the leading role in designing the system-of-system, supported by an IT subcontractor (Acme Consultants), see the figure below. Boliden expects enough business value to drive the whole endeavor, and also the future evolution. To enable such a development effort, Boliden must scale the in-house software engineering considerably – they aren’t even close to having enough resources today.

Scenario In-House: Boliden leads the development of the system-of-systems.

In Scenario Add-on Option, the vehicle suppliers recognize mapping as a promising business opportunity. The LiDAR sensors are mounted on their LHDs after all, why not
make a profit by selling the LiDAR data to Boliden? One of the suppliers takes a leading role in designing the system-of-systems.

In Scenario Additional Service, Boliden has already outsourced the hauling service to the external company Acme Mining (this is actually already the case in Kankberk). In this scenario, Acme Mining has developed the innovative solution to update maps of underground mines using LiDARs mounted on their vehicles – and they offer this to Boliden as an additional service. Boliden signs a service level agreement specifying the quality of the mapping service.

In Scenario Ecosystem, Boliden has an open technical platform through which services communicate and share data. While we discuss only the realization of the mapping service, the strength of such an ecosystem would rather be its facilitation of diverse services delivered by different providers. An ecosystem could enable new players to come up with other innovative solutions as well.

Comparing the scenarios

We identified eight key variation points to structure the comparison between the four scenarios – we discuss three technical key variation points (IT infrastructure, evolution, and architecturally significant requirements) and five business-oriented variation points (inter-company dependency, upfront investment, running costs, risks, and the innovation platform).

Finally, we summarize our thoughts as trade-offs between four central elements: 1) costs, 2) control, 3) risks, and 4) innovation. If Boliden wants to incentivize one of the four scenarios, balancing the trade-offs could help them decide. If control is the most important element, Boliden should obviously go for Scenario In-house, but it would certainly be costly. If cost reduction is the primary focus, Boliden would benefit from Scenario Add-on Option or Scenario Additional Service. In Scenario Additional Service, risk management could be partially addressed in service level agreements. Finally, if innovation is the top priority, nothing beats an open ecosystem. We elaborate on this in the paper itself, but also in the accompanying technical report.

Implications for Research

  • The Kankberg mine constitutes a contemporary example of digitalization in a sector that previously had little to do with software.
  • We discuss an example of a system-of-systems – there are not too many publications in software engineering on the emerging behaviors such solutions enable.
  • We argue that while the system architecture reflects the quality requirements, the system-of-systems architecture will rather be guided by the underlying business models.

Implications for Industry

  • In the era of digitalization, system-of-systems will be increasingly common – shaped by the business models.
  • Incentivizing certain system-of-systems architectures requires strategic planning – Boliden must carefully consider the inevitable trade-offs such as control vs. costs.
  • An open ecosystem is far from the traditional proprietary thinking – but would promote a higher dimension of innovation.
Markus Borg, Thomas Olsson, and John Svensson. Piggybacking on an Autonomous Hauler: Business Models Enabling a System-of-Systems Approach to Mapping an Underground Mine, In Proc. of the 25th International Requirements Engineering Conference, pp. 373-381, 2017. (link, preprint, slides, technical report)


With ever-increasing productivity targets in mining operations, there is a growing interest in mining automation. In future mines, remote-controlled and autonomous haulers will operate underground guided by LiDAR sensors. We envision reusing LiDAR measurements to maintain accurate mine maps that would contribute to both safety and productivity. Extrapolating from a pilot project on reliable wireless communication in Boliden's Kankberg mine, we propose establishing a system-of-systems (SoS) with LIDAR-equipped haulers and existing mapping solutions as constituent systems. SoS requirements engineering inevitably adds a political layer, as independent actors are stakeholders both on the system and SoS levels. We present four SoS scenarios representing different business models, discussing how development and operations could be distributed among Boliden and external stakeholders, e.g., the vehicle suppliers, the hauling company, and the developers of the mapping software. Based on eight key variation points, we compare the four scenarios from both technical and business perspectives. Finally, we validate our findings in a seminar with participants from the relevant stakeholders. We conclude that to determine which scenario is the most promising for Boliden, trade-offs regarding control, costs, risks, and innovation must be carefully evaluated.