How Rio Tinto’s Robotic Trucks Are Helping Cut Costs

As part of a $13 billion mining operation in East Pilbara, Western Australia, Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), one of the world’s largest mining companies, uses driverless, robotic trucks.

In 2008 Rio Tinto first deployed the Autonomous Haulage System developed by Komatsu, the construction and mining equipment company, at its West Angelas Mine, after the technology had already been successfully used at Coldeco’s copper mines in Chile for some time.

The system consists of a series of giant robotic trucks that load, haul, and dump ore and waste rock at open mine pits in the Western Australian wilderness. Each vehicle works very much like a self-driving car, currently being developed by car manufacturers the world over, except that the trucks are 27 feet wide, 51 feet long, weigh 210 metric tonnes, and can carry an additional 320 metric tonnes.

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A dumper truck, part of the Autonomous Haulage System. (M2M)

The system has met with huge success and is now in operation across three different mines; and in April the trucks clocked their 100 millionth metric tonne of rock moved. Fifteen of the trucks used by Rio Tinto operate in the West Angelas iron ore mine in Pilbara, at first they were all controlled from a supervisory computer at an onsite operations centre, but that has since changed to a system that is controlled, 24 hours a day, from a remote operations centre located more than 1,000 kilometres away in Perth.

The dump trucks are able to communicate wirelessly, navigate the mines using a very accurate GPS system, and can autonomously detect obstacles in their path, making them extremely safe. They have the ability to avoid other vehicles, or follow them, with all operations automatically controlled by the central supervisory computer.

Rio Tinto claims that the big success of the Autonomous Haulage System, is that the trucks can work 24 hours a day, and offer a much higher level of safety, as they never get distracted or tired, like human drivers. The initial decision to use the system was that it is actually cheaper than hiring human drivers and then deal with the hassle of moving them back and forth between the remote mines.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

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