CeBIT09: Rio Tinto advances remote operations sans NBN

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CeBIT09: Rio Tinto advances remote operations sans NBN

Rio Tinto is building a remote operations centre (ROC) at Perth Airport that will operate autonomous trucks, trains and other systems at a “prototype” iron ore operation in the Pilbara.

The development falls under the company's ‘Mine of the Future' initiative, first announced in January 2008.

That initiative has already spawned global technology innovation partnerships with the likes of University of Sydney, Curtin University, CSIRO and GE, among others.

The latest development - that of the ROC - takes a view that the mine of the future may only require people onsite for maintenance, reducing the need to put miners in high-risk situations such as operating drilling machinery underground.

"Theoretically all of our mining operations across the world could be controlled from one centre in the future," said Dr Chris Goodes, General Manager Innovation - Recovery, Rio Tinto Technology & Innovation at Rio Tinto.

"The wide scale application of the mine of the future we believe could revolutionise the mining industry."

However, the rollout of the NBN will likely come too late for Rio.

"The ROC rollout in Perth is happening now so I'm not sure the timing of the NBN is going to be important to our plans," he said.

Goodes said that in the future advances in hardware, software and firmware will enable mining companies like Rio Tinto to sense what is in the ground "before turning a single shovel of soil".

This will become increasingly critical as tier-one surface deposits of minerals become more scarce, forcing mining companies to explore underground deposits that can be as much as two kilometres deep.

Goodes also said that Rio's strategy with engaging technology and innovation partners is to arrange exclusive use of that technology with its creators, rather than use something that is also available to its competitors.

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