Rio Tinto will introduce driverless trucks to a new mine in the Pilbara later this month, its fifth to be serviced by the expanding fleet.
Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the mining giant is fast-tracking its driverless fleet expansion.
Fifteen trucks have been fitted out with the company’s in-house Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology to operate out of the West Angelas mine run by Rio’s Robe River joint venture partners, Mitsui and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal.
Last year Rio Tinto’s autonomous fleet – operated by a central controller, rather than a driver – accounted for about a quarter of the total material moved across its Pilbara mine network.
The fleet runs on a pre-defined GPS route, automatically navigating haul roads and intersections and can recognise locations, speeds and directions of all other vehicles.
Mr Salisbury said about 25 per cent of Rio’s 380 mining trucks are now autonomous and that each driverless truck costs about 15 per cent less to run than a conventional truck.
“Just last month (the fleet) moved its one-billionth tonne,” Mr Salisbury told the West Australian Leadership Matters Breakfast in Perth.
“Each truck operates 700 hours more a year, or an extra month of work than their manned counterparts,” Mr Salisbury said.
He did not say how many jobs are being impacted by the automated transition of the iron ore division – which alone employs 11,500 West Australians directly.
In December Rio announced its manufacturers Komatsu and Caterpillar will retrofit 48 giant trucks to provide driverless operation, taking the total number operated by Rio in the region to more than 130 by 2019.