Driverless trucks

Paul Boughton

Driverless trucks come at a time when there is heightened pressure to increase production while also balancing rising costs. Vicky Kendrick reports

Driverless trucks have been deployed for the first time in July 2012 by the mining and resources giant, Rio Tinto.

The Junction South East Pit in Western Australia uses a fleet of 10 Komatsu driverless haul trucks moving high-grade ore. This marks a pivotal step towards the full operational deployment of such vehicles.  
Rio Tinto aims to roll out the use of driverless trucks across all its haulage requirements in the pit to move high-grade, low-grade and waste material from multiple loading units.
The company’s CEO, Sam Walsh, says he wants to introduce over 150 driverless trucks to its Pilbara operations as the company looks to lead the way in the operation of these vehicles.  These trucks specifically form part of the Mine of the Future programme developed by Rio Tinto, which focuses on improving the logistics, safety and production efficiency at 14 mines across Australia. [Page Break]
At a time when there is pressure to increase production but manage costs, mining companies are looking towards technological advances as a means of improving production efficiency.
Analyst firm IDC has reiterated this point with the release of a report outlining that the Australian resources sector will be increasing technology spend to $3 billion by 2015.
By investing in technology organisations are finding that they are reducing their spend on personnel.  In addition to driverless haul trucks, Rio Tinto has spent $483 million installing 41 autonomous trains in the Pilbara. These are operated by software only. [Page Break]
To illustrate the potential cost savings of this driverless technology, resource companies claim that it costs nearly $1 million per year for drivers to operate a single truck on a continuous basis.  
Tim Shanahan, Director of the Energy and Minerals Institute at the University of Western Australia, outlines further benefits of driverless haul trucks, stating that they also “keep humans out of dangerous and hostile environments." This is particularly the case when driverless vehicles are used in undersea and deep-water oil and gas platform operations.  [Page Break]

A recent development by Caterpillar has lead to them launching their CAT MineStar system technology that will be used for an initial fleet of 12 793F trucks in the third quarter of 2012.
Caterpillar will work with WesTrac to implement this innovative solution at the Soloman mine in Australia

Sam Walsh, Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO, says he wants to introduce over 150 driverless trucks to its Pilbara operations. © Rio Tinto
At Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations the company is striving to lead the way in the operation of driverless trucks. © Rio Tinto


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