With huge 250 tonne plus autonomous mining haul trucks already being proven up for years. Now the expanding frontier is the highway-going class of truck. With big leaps forward in recent years with smaller autonomous trucks to a stage where they are almost ready for the application and production phase to test their validity financially. Questions are going to be asked and answered about these 40 tonne size trucks. 

So, what do much smaller autonomous mining trucks bring to the mining and earth-moving industries? And why are they important? 

With the big push now for reduced emissions, improved versatility and cohesion from all the big mining companies and equipment manufacturers it has really expanded the realms of thinking for what autonomous vehicles can do for mining companies and how they will be used over the next few decades.

Now just imagine the possibilities with these smaller, more agile class trucks being able to operate on much smaller road infrastructure, and operate around buildings, plants and people in a much more nimble and predictable way. The smaller autonomous trucks should also be much better at handling long distances, one of the biggest constraints with the larger haul trucks and long distances is tyre temperatures. These highway-going trucks will handle that much better and distances of 50, 80, 100 kilometres plus should be no problem at all in all types of environmental conditions.

It is often the case in Australia, big mining operations might have one, two or three mines all within a few kilometres of each other linked by hundreds of kilometres of back roads. Often these clusters of mines might be serviced by just one train loadout with a major stockpile. All the processed mined products from the satellite mines are then generally delivered by overland conveyor belts. Now, these conveyor belts have a limited capacity for what they can do and require downtime for servicing and breakdowns. Just imagine you could supplement the delivery of this material to the train load out with a fleet of smaller autonomous trucks operating 24/7. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

During times of breakdown or servicing conveyors you could fire up the autonomous trucks to keep the supply of ore continuing without interruption, also you can supplement and increase the capacity of these conveyors by continually having a fleet of trucks hauling products which increases your potential volume to your train loadout stockpiles. You could even take this one step further and run these smaller autonomous trucks all the way to the shipping ports to greatly increase the capacity of rail systems and infrastructure that will become the most difficult bottleneck to overcome.

These are just two or three examples that make this type of autonomous system very compelling and versatile. The biggest constraint for the ultra 250 tonne plus autonomous haul trucks are they can only really operate in open pit environments, this limits the ability to adapt.

Just very recently one of the big miners has taken delivery of their first fully electric small-class truck, this class of truck will be much easier and quicker to convert to fully electric thus meeting the needs of the major mining companies to become fully carbon neutral in the near future.

Just think of the number of these trucks that are already out there in the marketplace being utilised, they are much more versatile than just a haulage truck. Every mine site, construction site, and road works crew has a number of these trucks being utilised as water trucks to suppress dust on the thousands of kilometres of dirt roads that they work on, it will be quite easy to adapt automated dust suppression systems like the impressive GRT SMART Dosing system which accurately and seamlessly uses GRT Haul-Loc to greatly reduce troublesome and dangerous dust. 

It won’t be very much longer at all before we start to see some of these types of trucks on private mining roads and then scaling up to more integrated roads and construction sites.

The ability to utilise these types of trucks in many industries greatly increases public awareness and will speed up the uptake and agreeability for autonomous systems becoming part of our everyday lives.

Therefore size does matter and it’s a very important next step in autonomy but always remember it is how you use it that is by far the most important thing. We will see these types of trucks – probably electric versions not only hauling raw materials, but they’ll be used to transport equipment and parts between mine sites, suppressing dusty mine access and internal roads with modern integrated dust suppression systems, working on road works projects, and endless other applications you now see this versatile size of truck completing on a daily basis.

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