Manufacturer says mine environment is suited to autonomous vehicles
Sweden’s Scania is testing self-driving trucks for use in mining operations, according to a report on its website.
The company is actively researching the deployment of self-driving trucks in mines, “with tests under real-life conditions not far off,” Scania said. Developers at Scania and researches from technical colleges are studying the role driverless trucks could play in the future.
Development on the concept has progressed far enough that the self-driving test vehicle, Astator, is now able to carry out tasks such as picking up and unloading a load of gravel. It also capable of safely handling obstacles on the road, Scania says.
“Mines are environments that are especially well suited to self-driving vehicles,” says Lars Hjorth, responsible for pre-development within Autonomous Transport Solutions at Scania. “The area is contained and the operator can control what other equipment and staff that is working in the area.”
Hjorth is also project manager for iQMatic, a research project that Scania is conducting in cooperation with other Swedish companies, such as Saab and Autoliv. The project is being run with support from the Swedish government and involves researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Linköping University.
A notable example of real-life deployment of autonomous vehicles in mining is Australian firm Rio Tinto, which is already using automated haulage trucks to move material in mines in Western Australia.
The mining industry so far relied has upon large and expensive construction vehicles for its heavy transport requirements. However, interest is increasing around the world in smaller scale and more flexible solutions involving specialised mining trucks.
“A truck solution is more cost effective, with the total cost per transported tonne being significantly lower,” said Hjorth. “The infrastructure costs are also reduced as trucks don’t require specially reinforced roads.”
While self-driving solutions for construction equipment have been around for a while, the possibility is now opening up to the same thing with trucks, Hjorth noted. This could push the mining industry’s costs down even further.
“Self-driving mining trucks could become a reality within a few years and the impetus and potential is here today,” he said.
“The next step could be self-driving container trucks in ports. After that the technology will also come to the long haul transport sector, with self-driving vehicles driving between large transport centres where their cargoes are then loaded into ordinary trucks.”