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50-Foot Robotic Trucks Perform Dangerous Work in Australian Mines
These robots are remotely programmed, and can autonomously detect obstacles while moving ore and waste rock.
By Kelsey D. Atherton, Popular Science - Filed Sep 11, 2013

More Industry and Manufacturing stories
This Autonomous Hauling System, in use by the British-Australian metals and mining company Rio Tinto Iron Ore, is a series of robotic trucks that load, haul, and dump ore and waste rock at open pit mines. Imagine Google's self-driving cars, except gigantic: each 210-metric-ton truck is 27 feet wide and 51 feet long, and can carry 320 metric tons.

As the above video from Australian animation company Toucan Creative explains, these robot dump trucks have hauled ore in Western Australia since December 2008. Last April, the dump trucks collectively hit a major milestone: 100 million metric tons moved, including work at three different mines.

Although 15 of the dump trucks work in Australia's iron-rich Pilbara region, they are controlled from a Rio Tinto headquarters in Perth, Australia—930 miles away. Key to the trucks' success is their ability to operate 24 hours a day. (Turns out humans, who need to sleep and use the bathroom and stuff, are really inefficient.)

The dump trucks, which communicate wirelessly, navigate using a very precise GPS and can autonomously detect obstacles. They can avoid other vehicles or follow behind them, and are linked to a computer in charge of supervising their actions. Robots overseeing robots!

This is the type of job that is ideal for robots to take over from humans: the work is tedious, exhausting, and dangerous.

The next step? Rio Tinto is currently testing autonomous drills.


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