Autonomous driving vehicles are no longer a thing of the past – nearly every automobile company in the world, as well as a number of technology and startup companies have joined the movement. By 2035, it is estimated that the United States alone will produce nearly 21 million self-driving cars. While on-road vehicles are not yet expected to reach complete autonomy in the near future, a number of industrial applications of fully autonomous vehicles have already been utilized within the mining, farming, construction and warehouse sectors and shown drastic improvements in the productivity, worker safety and economy of these industries.
Autonomous Operations Within the Mine
In regards to the mining industry, autonomous equipment can either be classified as semi-autonomous or fully autonomous. While semi-autonomous mining equipment is typically operated by a human, who performs certain tasks, it has the capabilities to self-operate for all other tasks. Whereas fully autonomous mining equipment does not require a human operator in a control room to ensure their tasks are completed1. Fully autonomous mining trucks complete a set of tasks without any operator intervention and are instead monitored in a remote control room by miners to ensure that the trucks are running efficiently throughout the mine.
The most important aspect of any given mining project is centered on the location of the ore, therefore, autonomous mining vehicles must be equipped with the information on how to adequately access this location for the efficient extraction and transportation of mined materials. To navigate around the mine, autonomous mining vehicles are equipped with a high precision global positioning system (GPS). The precise placement of numerous satellites surrounding the ore of the mine is imperative in ensuring the accuracy of the autonomous vehicles to function correctly2. Other technologies such as lasers and radar can also support autonomous mining vehicles as they perform close proximity tasks, such as the shoveling and hauling of materials.
Entire Fleet Automation
One of the leading producers of autonomous mining equipment is Utah based company, Autonomous Solutions, Inc (ASI). In an effort to provide both surface and underground mining professionals with the vehicles and equipment required for a fully autonomous fleet, ASI’s Mobius software is a comprehensive system that allows for complete fleet management and control. Mobius provides mining professionals with a birds-eye view of all vehicles within the mine to allow for the proper monitoring of all tasks including cycle times, tonnage, idle time, hang time, etc3. Additionally, mining professionals are able to assign specific tasks and routes to specific vehicles within the mine.
Some of the autonomous mining vehicles offered by ASI include:
- Autonomous ADT
- Rigid Haul Truck
Benefits of Autonomy in Mining
While autonomous vehicles in the mining industry clearly reduce the number of operators required to drive equipment, they instead shift these workers to overseeing the autonomous operations at remote locations that can be up to thousands of kilometers away from the ore of the mine. Through this role transition, miners instead become more technologically focused in their careers.
Additionally, autonomous operations within the mine play a key role in improving the overall safety and production of all mining operations. By removing human operators from completing most mining procedures, autonomous mining equipment completely removes the risk to the operator. Since mining operations are often repetitive and tedious to human operators, autonomous vehicles within the mine also prevents any mistakes in operation that could be attributed to the operator’s inevitable fatigue2. In regards to improving production rates within the mine, the computers that control the autonomous vehicles in mining are programmed with scheduling and assignment algorithms that are specifically designed to meet each day’s specific tasks.
As the technology of autonomous vehicles and machinery continues to progress, mining researchers are confident that these advancements will allow for complete automation to be achieved in the mining fleet.
- “Automated Operations” – Geospatial World
- “Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world” – McKinsey & Company
- “Autonomous Haulage” – ASI