One of the top mining firms in the world, Rio Tinto, has been operating a fleet of autonomous trucks in various parts of Australia as part of its operations there. Building on these earlier and current deployments, the company is now planning to greatly increase the size of the autonomous truck fleet working in Australia’s Pilbara iron-ore region, according to recent reports.
The planned self-driving truck deployment is apparently part of a broader cost-cutting program that Rio Tinto is pursuing — which just goes to show why some industry observers are expecting the uptake of self-driving vehicle technologies to be fairly rapid in the commercial sector (there’s the potential there to do away with expensive human employees).
“We are studying future additions to our autonomous fleet in the Pilbara, based on value, to help deliver our share of $5 billion of additional free cash flow for the company by 2021,” explained Rio Tinto iron ore division CEO Chris Salisbury.
Reuters provides more: “Rio said it had signed deals with Komatsu Ltd and Caterpillar Inc to retrofit 48 trucks with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology. This will be the first time the technology has been deployed on Caterpillar trucks, Rio said in a statement.
“After completion, due by the end of 2019, more than 130 of Rio’s Pilbara fleet of almost 400 trucks would be autonomous. Last year, on average, each of its autonomous haul trucks operated an additional 1000 hours and at 15% lower load and haul unit cost than conventional vehicles, Rio said.”
Those are some substantial improvements. Though, without purchase costs factored in, it’s hard to tell exactly how much Rio Tinto is saving through their deployment. Going on the new plans to expand deployment, one would guess a fair amount.