The future of coal looks like an ice cream truck parked half a kilometer down a mine shaft in China’s Shanxi province. The yellow and white vehicle is equipped with a 5G router from Huawei Technologies Co. to gather data for the mine’s control center, where technicians monitor high-definition feeds on a screen the size of a two-story house. They’re tracking temperature and methane concentrations while keeping watch over the black lumps zipping along conveyor belts on the way up to waiting trucks.
The data collection would previously have been done by workers down in the pit, but Yangquan Coal Industry Group has managed to eliminate some of those workers and virtualize the least appealing aspect of mine labor. “It will take time, but in the future, miners will wear suits and white shirts,” says Han Weihai, manager of Huawei’s mine projects in Shanxi. “People no longer want to work in a mine, especially young people with college degrees.”
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