Rio Tinto advances its autonomous ambitions

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Rio Tinto advances its autonomous ambitions

New trial allows smaller-scale use of the technology.

Rio Tinto is trialling an autonomous tipper truck built by Scania at its Dampier Salt operations in Western Australia.

The first phase of the trial started in August 2018 and involves a Scania XT 8x4 autonomous tipper truck, which is working outside of Dampier’s active operations.

“During this initial stage, a safety driver rides in the vehicle to observe the truck’s performance and, if necessary, intervenes,” the two companies said in a statement.

“In subsequent phases, additional autonomous Scania trucks will be added to develop vehicle-vehicle awareness and intelligent fleet supervisory controls.”

Rio Tinto’s head of productivity and technical support Rob Atkinson said the Scania trucks were much smaller than traditional haul trucks used at mine sites, providing options to bring autonomous technology to smaller operations.

“This has the potential to give us more flexibility in the way we operate in a number of areas across Rio Tinto,” he said.

“We have seen automation create safer and more efficient operations in our business and this is a next step in evaluating options for delivering further improvements through the use of technology.”

News of the trial coincided with the successful deployment of AutoHaul - the long-running automation of Rio Tinto’s heavy-haul, long distance rail network - after Christmas.

“Over the coming months we will continue to refine our autonomous operations to ensure we are able to maximise value,” Rio Tinto said of AutoHaul.

“We continue to work closely with drivers during this period and do not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the deployment of AutoHaul.”

AutoHaul’s final cost was about $1.2 billion, well above initially projected costs due to delays as a result of software issues.

The company has been on a long-term automation drive, touching trains, trucks and drilling. It initially started with the company's Mine of the Future programme, and has continued since.

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