Design Engineering

Amphibious cleantech robot wins Canadian innovation award

By DE Staff   

Automation General

Four ‘wheel’, screw-driven HELIX drone automates surveys of toxic sludge tailing ponds.

(Photo credit: Copperstone Technologies Ltd.)

Mitacs announced that Copperstone Technologies Ltd. has won the Canadian not-for-profit’s Outstanding Entrepreneur Award for 2022 for its amphibious cleantech robot. The Edmonton-based robotics firm’s HELIX drone is designed to traverse toxic industrial mine tailing ponds, either autonomously or by remote control, to collect water samples and perform geotechnical measurements.

“It’s critical that industrial companies and mines continually monitor their waste areas, to measure their progress on environmental mitigation and remediation, yet the terrain involved is extremely dangerous,” says Copperstone co-founder, Nicolas Olmedo. “Our robots can go out into these hazardous waste areas and successfully collect samples from under the surface of tailings.”

To traverse these muddy and toxic environments, the HELIX is equipped with four metal ‘tires’ – helical, screw-shaped pontoons that allow the HELIX to float on water or sidewind its way across mud, snow, ice and rocks.

On land, the HELIX Neptune model’s high torque motors allow the robot to climb hills and slog through sticky mud and sludge at around 1 m/s. On water, the robot can speed up to 2-3 m/s with help from its on-board thrusters. Commonly equipped with single beam sonar, sampling tools and multi-directional camera systems, Copperstone’s robots are able to collect data that would be impossible to gather otherwise, Olmedo says.


“Our samples allow our customers to analyze everything from the composition of their waste material, to how much water is trapped in the sludge, to how much residual bitumen is present,” says Olmedo who holds a PhD in engineering from the University of Alberta. He, along with co-founders, Stephen Dwyer and Jamie Yuen, established the company in 2014 following a Mitacs internship.

Since then, Copperstone has grown to 18 employees and has expanded from servicing Canadian oil sands to working with industrial companies with locations in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Australia, Brazil and Peru. In the future, the company says its on track to achieve multimillion-dollar revenues in the years ahead given that the global mine waste management market is estimated to more than 208 billion tons by 2028.

“In many cases, industrial waste is considered a ticking time bomb and there’s a huge push to do a better job of environmental monitoring,” Olmedo said. “We’re providing a solution that is accurate, affordable and most importantly, keeps people safe, so that ultimately these hazardous sites can be reclaimed and returned to their original state.”

Copperstone Technologies is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award this year for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business. Mitacs is a Canadian not-for-profit organization that pairs private companies with research specialists at Canadian universities to drive innovation.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories