This distinction goes to a future autonomous version of the 700-tons Caterpillar mining truck. In this article, Discovery News reports that Caterpillar engineers and computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have teamed up to develop this autonomous truck. Japan-based Komatsu already has already delivered autonomous mining trucks to its customers, but these are smaller than the Caterpillar ones. Both companies are transforming their trucks into 'robots' for three reasons. Improvements in safety, efficiency and productivity will reduce costs and increase availability. But read more...
You can see above a picture of the Caterpillar 797B mining truck. (Credit: Caterpillar) You'll find all its specifications from this link. You also can read this brochure (PDF format, 28 pages, 2.40 MB), from which this picture was extracted.
Here are some details about these future robotic trucks. "The Caterpillar trucks will be equipped with numerous high-tech gadgets and software to keep them on the road. GPS receivers would continuously monitor the location and direction of the trucks. Laser range finders would sweep the road in front of the trucks to identify large objects. Video equipment would then determine if the object is a hazard, such as a rock, or not. All of the information would then be run through a computer program that would tell the robotic driver to avoid the obstacle or not and by how much. The software to run the trucks will be adapted from CMU's part in the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Urban Challenge."
Obviously, one of the goals is to increase the productivity of these multi-million dollars trucks. "Fully automated mining trucks promise to reduce maintenance costs while increasing productivity. While being careful not to say what Caterpillar's performance expectations will be, Stentz offered a 'very rough calculation' that by running at peak capacity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the trucks could be up to 100 percent more productive. [Tony Stentz is a professor at CMU involved in the project.] Mines are also dangerous, and removing humans from dangerous jobs will help save lives, said Mark Campbell, another DARPA Urban Challenge participant from Cornell University. 'I personally think this is a good idea,' said Campbell. 'The safety of miners will be greatly improved because of the lighting issues, fog, dust and other conditions that make driving around a mine difficult.'"
Now, let's look at
Viewpoint: Perspectives on Modern Mininga publication of Caterpillar Global Mining and an article from its issue 4 in 2008, "Building the technologies for the mine sites of the future" (PDF format, 8 pages, 114 KB) for additional details.
As I wrote above, one of the expected benefits from these autonomous trucks is better safety. "'Zero injuries is the mantra of mining companies,' says Ed McCord, [Caterpillar's product manager for large mining trucks]. 'A switch to autonomous mining equipment will have a tremendous influence on their achievement of that goal. When you can remove the operator from harm's way, he is not impacted by any of these concerns.' For example, significant injuries can occur as operators access or egress from a machine. However, with an autonomous machine, there is significantly less need for a person to climb on and off. Studies have also shown that head-to-head and head-to-tail truck crashes are some of the most common collisions in a mine. With autonomy, the interaction between machines is tightly controlled with various layers of redundancy to prevent non-manned vehicles from hitting each other."
Another key benefit autonomous mining is consistency of operations. All workers feel fatigue at the end of the day -- whether they're working in a truck or in a mine office. As a result, their efficiency goes down. 'Inefficiencies and human inconsistencies can add up to millions of dollars of operating expenses or lost revenue,' says Ken Edwards, [Caterpillar mining technology manager]. Consistency leads to better efficiencies, lower costs and higher overall productivity."
Here are some potential benefits. "In an autonomous operation, a truck can be programmed to consistently back under the shovel to within 25 centimeters (10 inches) all day, every day -- so the shovel operator does not have to waste valuable time trying to chase the truck due to poor spotting; an autonomous truck cycle time will be consistent throughout the shift—beginning, end, and in the middle; an operator gets tired at the end of a shift, while an autonomous machine operates at the same efficiency 24/7."
If you're interested in these future gigantic robotic trucks, you also can read three documents from Caterpillar.
[Disclaimer: I have no financial ties with Caterpillar.]
Sources: Eric Bland, Discovery News, November 6, 2008; and various websites
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