Robot trucks now operating at Rio Tinto

Sydney, Oct 19 (IANS) Global mining giant Rio Tinto has started using automated, driverless trucks to move iron ore in its Pilbara mines, controlled from operations centre 1,200 km away in Perth.

The world’s first commercial implementation of the technology removes high risk, repetitive roles which expose employees to fatigue while also reducing operating costs and maintaining consistency, Xinhua news agency quoted Rio Tinto Yandicoogina operations manager Josh Bennett as saying.

Rio Tinto now has 69 driverless trucks operating 24 hours per day, estimating a saving of 500 work hours per truck per year.

“So, there is obvious capital savings, in terms of setting up camps, flying people to site, there are less people so there is less operating costs, but there are some costs that come into running the system and maintenance of the system as well,” Bennett said.

The resources giant is also testing unmanned trains and robot drills, aiming for a roll out of the machines to as many mine sites as possible in the next year.

Global resource rivals BHP Billiton and local middleweight Fortescue Metals are also in on the act, trialling similar technology at their mines.

Global automotive manufacturers have recently created a new battleground in market against the likes of Google and Apple, snapping up software experts in the race to develop a self-driving car for the consumer market.

“Obviously it’s not public because there is a lot of money… and it’s a competitive industry with different automotive manufacturers, therefore they keep it behind closed doors,” University of New South Wales associate professor of industrial automation and engineering, Jay Katupitiya, said on Monday.

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