Ask a group of non-miners to imagine a fleet of large trucks that come when called, position themselves for loading, then move away to their assigned dump locations—all without a single operator on board—and they’ll think it’s science fiction. But pose that same scenario to a gathering of miners, and they’ll tell you autonomous mining is quickly becoming a reality in many operations.
That’s because autonomous solutions can improve safety, equipment availability and overall productivity on any mine site without machine operators sitting in the cab. That’s particularly important for remote operations where attracting and retaining skilled labor is a challenge. Autonomous equipment also reduces the chances for injury by limiting the number of people working around moving equipment while enhancing equipment availability and overall productivity.
Autonomous machines are directed by a control system that tells them where to go and what to do. On-board intelligence systems enable these vehicles to “decide” how to navigate to the prescribed work area and accomplish the assigned tasks. An autonomous haul truck, for example, can follow an assigned lane through an ever-changing map of the mine or choose the best path from where it’s currently located to where the mine control center tells it to go.
Sophisticated perception technologies also allow them to work safely with and around other mine equipment and personnel, even in congested areas. Those technologies also bring the truck safely to a stop whenever something unexpected gets in its way.
An autonomous haulage system can drive productivity improvements, as well. An autonomous truck doesn't need to stop for lunch breaks or shift changes. It always works within specified operating parameters, saving wear and tear and improving availability. And if something does go wrong, it will alert the mine's service department right away and provide instant diagnostic information, helping to reduce total downtime.
Bottom line, autonomous trucks result in a safer overall mine, along with a more predictable, more efficient and more productive hauling operation.