The giant pink trucks at the Roy Hill iron ore mine in WA will operate without human drivers from next year, the company's chief executive has said.
The driverless trucks are part of an ongoing ramp up of automation at the Pilbara region's newest mining operation, with six further drills being automated in 2018 (three are currently).
"There's no doubt that we'll move to making our trucks autonomous. And we expect to start formalising plans about them in the middle of next year," said Roy Hill CEO Barry Fitzgerald at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast yesterday.
"Once you've started your trucks you're into ancillary equipment, water carts, we have remote control dozers at the present time."
The number of self-driving trucks at Australian mines has been rapidly increasing over the last year. Fortescue Metals' in June announced plans to up the number of driverless trucks at its Solomon and Chichester sites. In July, Mining Magazine reported that BHP would be doubling its autonomous fleet at Jimblebar, also in the Pilbara.
Rio Tinto's Pilbara mines, have been using remote-controlled trucks since 2015.
Speaking to CIO Australia earlier this year, Roy Hill's general manager technology Rebecca Kerr said autonomous trucks weren't mature enough when the mine's business plan was being put together.
The human drivers at the mine currently optimise their driving behaviours (to minimise fuel consumption and tyre wear), guided by analytics of sensor, GPS and weather data.
Fitzgerald said although the "big ticket autonomy items" like driverless trucks got a lot of attention, they were just one element of a "smart mine".
"It's really important to put this in context. Sometimes people see autonomous trucks as really the application of technology in the mining industry. The first context you need to have is smart mining, that is this whole holistic concept of a mine," Fitzgerald said.
"Autonomy is a small part of the process, it may be autonomous robotics in terms of doing your assaying, it may be autonomous drills, it may be autonomous surveying through drones," he added.
The mine, majority owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, is building up to a target 55 million tonnes per annum peak. It is set to be one of Australia's largest mining projects with an operating life of more than 20 years.
The author attended Symposium/ITxpo as a guest of Gartner