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Rio Tinto expands autonomous trucking fleet, aims for 100 trucks this year

Mining giant rolls out its autonomous trucks to a fifth site in Western Australia.

Mining giant Rio Tinto has said it will deploy fifteen autonomous trucks to its West Angelas mine in May, with the vehicles to be put through their paces this month during testing.

The company is eyeing off a target of 100 autonomous trucks in operation this year, and for the total to hit 150 the year after.

"This deployment is a special achievement for Rio Tinto as we pioneered the adoption of AHS [Autonomous Haulage System] in Australia at the West Angelas mine 10 years ago, paving the way for the significant autonomous fleet we have in operation today," Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Rio Tinto has led the way in automation and has been on this journey for more than a decade. We've successfully managed the challenges and opportunities that automation technology presents and have a track record of reskilling, upskilling, and redeploying our people."

Last year, its autonomous fleet moved around one quarter of all material moved out of Rio Tinto's Pilbara mine sites, with the vehicles running for 700 hours longer than conventional trucks over the course of the year, and doing so for approximately 15 percent cheaper.

A decade ago, Rio Tinto introduced fully autonomous haul trucks as one of the first steps in its Mine of the Future program.

"I smile when I hear the rush to develop autonomous vehicles by Uber, Google, and pretty well every car company on planet Earth," Rio Tinto former CEO Sam Walsh told the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in Sydney last week. "Rio was the first mining company to introduce fully-autonomous haul trucks in 2008."

Rio Tinto's operations generate 2.4 terabytes of data every minute from hundreds of pieces of mobile equipment and sensors that provide real-time data on location and condition monitoring of equipment.

"Today much like an air traffic controller, it has many moving parts, and looks like NASA's control centre," Walsh said.

In October, the company claimed to have conducted the country's first autonomous long haul train journey.

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