News & Analysis

Perth hackathon Unearthed looks to solve big data challenges in the mining resource sector

- August 23, 2016 3 MIN READ

We’re in the middle of an ideas boom, so we’re being told to forget about the mining boom, but does that mean we should forget about the mining sector itself? Everyone is racing to innovate, but the mining and resource sector is a large market, which makes it hard for smaller startups to enter.

To break down those barriers and even spark a discussion on technological innovations entrepreneurs are turning towards hackathon weekends. These events encourage more discussions and facilitate networking opportunities with the aim of linking startups with large businesses and organisations.

One such hackathon that aims to spur the mining sector into the digital age is Unearthed. Started in Perth in 2014, Unearthed has taken its hackathons around the country and has even moved internationally into Silicon Valley and Las Vegas. The hackathon links startups with the mining and resource sector to shift the sector from being results focused to productivity focused.

“We decided to put on the hackathon as the first way of entering the industry and showing that if you get a big crowd of entrepreneurs and startups together a lot can get done,” said growth manager of Unearthed, Mikey Kailis.

“When you’re combining skills that software developers and engineers and computer scientists bring together, great outcomes can come out of it.”

Over the weekend Unearthed held a hackathon at Fishburners in Sydney, where 20 startup teams competed in five resource challenges. The challenges were all centred around the theme of big data and how using large data sets can yield enhanced productivity.

The winning team, Data Cake, created a way to visualise data so yearly reports in the mining resource sector can be easily identified.  The startup aimed to maximise alumina plant production, specifically helping South32 to improve its Worsley Alumina refinery production output. The Data Cake team won $2,000 in cash, as well as credits and support from Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Second place went to a startup called Perry’s Fan Club, the name inspired by the one and only Katy Perry. The startup offered a new approach to preventing SAG mill surge events. These events directly influence the amount of gold produced and can cause around $100,000 in production loss an hour. Perry’s Fan Club created a model that predicts current SAG mill surges through predictive analytics. The startup received $1,500 in cash and AWS prizes.

Coming in third was Team Beaver, which developed an algorithm using machine learning principles with engineering to influence the internal behaviour of SAG mill. The team produced a 99 percent prediction rate when testing unknown data. Team Beaver received $1,000 in cash and AWS prizes.

The next step for many of these startups is validating their products and services and integrating them into real-time scenarios. The opening up of big data and creating transparency within the mining resource sector enables startups to come up with intuitive and innovative solutions to many problems that have riddled the mining sector for generations.

Kailis explained that falling commodity prices has changed the selling points in resource companies. The first thing these companies look at is how to become more efficient and innovative and that means looking at different forms of technology.

The Unearthed hackathon aimed to discover how big data collected by mining sectors can be used today. Startups have shown they can use this data visually and intuitively to save on production time to overall increase profitability.

Following the Sydney event, another hackathon called Unearthed Hunter Valley, is now taking place with challenges offered by the New South Wales Department of Industry and also the local Northparkes Mines. Next month Unearthed will be moving to Silicon Valley for their event Unearthed San Francisco.

This year alone other hackathons like CSIRO’s Hack the Sun, the Government’s GovHack and QUT’s Code Network have realised the potential on being transparent and opening up data sets to startups. Giving startups access to these large data sets helps drive the digital economy forward and helps companies look externally for better and more innovative solutions to their problems.

The challenge now is to encourage more startups to utilise their skills to help large businesses innovate. The skills are applied to a company that already has a customer base and a testing ground, and on the other hand companies can look to startups who are not confined by rules and boundaries.

Image: Mikey Kailis, Justin Strharsky and Zane Prickett. Source: Supplied.