Rio Tinto is set to retrofit 48 haul trucks operating at its Brockman 4 and Marandoo mines in Western Australia with autonomous technology.
The miner in August flagged an expansion of its autonomous haulage system (AHS) project, which would see existing truck fleets modified to support autonomous operation.
Currently, about 20 percent of all trucks in its iron ore operations are autonomously operated, but the miner today set a goal to grow the fleet by more than 50 percent by the end of 2019.
It has struck deals with the truck makers Caterpillar and Komatsu to achieve this target.
The Caterpillar deal represents an expansion of the AHS program, as it has previously been limited only to Komatsu vehicles.
“A total of 29 Komatsu haul trucks will be retrofitted with autonomous haulage system (AHS) technology starting next year,” Rio Tinto said in a statement.
“The project at the Brockman 4 operation is scheduled for completion by mid-2019, allowing the mine to run entirely in AHS mode once fully deployed.
“A further 19 Caterpillar haul trucks at the Marandoo mine will also be retrofitted starting mid-2018 for completion by the end of 2019.
“[This] marks the first time AHS technology has been deployed by the company on Caterpillar haul trucks.”
Once these two mines have retrofits completed, “Rio Tinto will have more than 130 autonomous trucks, representing about 30 percent of the fleet".
While today’s deal marks Rio Tinto’s first autonomous foray with Caterpillar, the heavy equipment m maker already has a presence in Western Australia via Rio rival BHP.