Pros and cons of autonomous drivers in mining

February 19, 2018 Tara

Autonomous vehicles are becoming more in demand in the mining industry, with driverless trucks are already moving iron ore at Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mines, which is a world first.

Driverless trucks have the potential to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and they are said to be each saving approximately 500 work hours per year.  Rio Tinto Managers claim that it has greatly reduced worker hazards, and reduced costs.  There is no longer the risk of driver fatigue and human error, and they are no longer needing to provide transport and accommodation to the workers who would ordinarily be manning the vehicles.  Most of the trucks are being controlled from a centre in Perth, away from the actual mine sites in the Pilbara region.  Autonomous vehicles could potentially lead the way for new mining techniques and open areas that were previously deemed unable to mined.

But what are the cons?  Setting up, running and maintaining driverless mine equipment is a considerable financial cost.  Other than the vehicles themselves, there is the additional cost of mapping the mines for the vehicles to run, as well as the set up of a control centre.  Drivers will no longer be required, meaning loss of jobs – but automation does open a whole host of new roles in a brand-new industry, including controllers and maintenance roles.

Other mining companies such as BHP are starting their foray into the autonomous world, but as this is still very new technology, we are uncertain of the benefits and pitfalls on a long-term scale.   At the moment, we are still in the learning stages of autonomy in vehicles, but needless to say, it will be interesting to watch unfold.

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