Mines make the big switch to driverless trucks

Riley Riley

While the world takes its first tentative steps with driverless cars, the mining industry has embraced the technology with open arms.

With 80 per cent of some 500 autonomous haul trucks currently in use at surface mines across the globe, Australia dominates this market.

And with huge investment expected the number of trucks is expected to more than triple over the next couple of years — both here and worldwide.

Latest figures from GlobaData’s Mining Intelligence Centre show 459 autonomous haul trucks operating on surface mines across the globe.

Of these 369 are in Australia, followed by Canada with 39, Chile with 18 and Brazil 14.

This compares with 348 for the previous year — a year-on-year increase of 32 per cent.

The popularity of autonomous trucks is growing as miners taking advantage of improvements to productivity; reductions in accidents and operating costs; increased machine life and tyre life and lower fuel consumption.

While most trucks are being used by iron ore and coal mines, the rollout of autonomous fleets is spreading.

Newmont recently announced plans to transform Boddington mine into the world’s first open-pit gold mine with an autonomous haul truck fleet, and they are in use in oil sands mines in Canada.

Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue account for 80 per cent of the total surface mining autonomous fleet.

Rio Tinto with 162 autonomous trucks, Fortescue with 157 and BHP with 50.

The big three are expected to dominate this part of the industry over the next three years, with Rio Tinto planning to add 130 more trucks across its Pilbara operations, while BHP has plans to automate up to 500 haul trucks across its Western Australia iron ore and Queensland coal mines between 2020 and 2023.

The two leading suppliers, Komatsu and Caterpillar, collectively account for 93 per cent of the autonomous surface trucks in operation, with the 793F and 930E the most popular models.

Mining has long faced problems such as high operating costs, driver shortages, harsh environments and frequent accidents.

The Chinese Government is another big proponent of introducing autonomous, driverless mining trucks — to improve both safety and operating efficiency.

By fully or semi-automating mining equipment with lidar technology that can map the environment in 3-D and detect objects in and around the vehicle, operating challenges can be greatly reduced.

In Australia it’s soaring temperatures, but in China extreme cold is one of the great challenges facing autonomous mining trucks and their components.

Extreme cold weather can shorten the lifetime of select components creating additional costs and safety risks to the whole mining project.

In May 2020, Waytous the leading unmanned mining solution provider in China, officially launched the world’s first large-scale autonomous mining truck project in an extremely cold environment — the huge Baorixile open-pit mine located in the Inner Mongolia Region of China.

It’s also the first project built with a 5G network which allows up to five autonomous mining trucks operating simultaneously without bumping into each other.

Ouster’s OS0 and OS1 lidar sensors are used as the basis of the system, with a cold start function and able to operate in temperatures of -40 degrees, which meets automotive specifications for cold weather performance.

The digital lidar pass strict shock and vibration tests before they leave the factory so they are capable of operating and providing accurate lidar data in bumpy, unpaved environments.

Based on its unique optical design, Ouster’s digital lidar is reportedly less affected by rain, snow and dust which may obscure the lidar window.

“Mines are relatively safe spaces to deploy autonomous driving technology because they are located in places with few people and limited external interference,” CEO and co-founder of Waytous, Long Chen, said.

“Such an enclosed environment is ideal for the early deployment of autonomous driving technology.”


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