Rio Tinto snaps up driverless trucks in the Pilbara

Rio Tinto is to become the owner of the world’s largest fleet of driverless trucks

November 3, 2011

Mining giant Rio Tinto has signed a deal to buy at least 150 Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) trucks from Komatsu over the next four years.

The new trucks, which start arriving in 2012, will be used in Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia and can be controlled from its operations centre in Perth more than 1500 kilometers away.

The move signals a 15-fold expansion from its previous plan to double the fleet to 10 trucks.

Rio tinto says the driverless trucks comprise the latest development in the company's 'Mine of the Future' program, which introduces next-generation technologies for mining operations.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese says such technologies are revolutionising the way large-scale mining is done, creating attractive hi-tech jobs, and helping improve safety and environmental performance with reduced carbon emissions.

"Implementing autonomous haulage on this scale means more material can be moved more quickly and safely, creating a direct increase in productivity," Albanese says.

Rio Tinto has been testing the Komatsu Autonomous Haulage System, the world's first commercial autonomous mining haulage system, in the Pilbara since December 2008.

The company says the technology demonstrates benefits in health, safety and productivity and
plans more widespread deployment of its automated drills, both in the Pilbara and at coal and copper mines.

It might not be remote-controlled to the same extent but the driverless freight truck concept has had a decent airing in Australian industry forums recently and Westgate Logistics in Melbourne has supported a version using dedicated road freight paths from ports to inland terminals.

Footage has been shown of Volvo test drives of "platooning", under the European Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, whereby a professional driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles.

All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time, Volvo explained in January.

The vehicle maker says increased safety and emissions gains of 20 percent might be had in 10 years’ time if the idea goes ahead.

The idea was greeted with much scepticism when the three-year SARTRE program began in 2009.

Rio Tinto will take possession of
its trucks at its Western Australian Pilbara operations by the end of 2015.

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