Robot Trucks Join Autonomous Cars Leaving Drivers with Little to Do

Caterpillar robot driven mining truck

Caterpillar robot driven mining truck

Several huge mines in Australia, where ore is shoveled into giant dump trucks, are now running those same trucks without drivers. Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, are purchasing more of these self driving giants from manufacturers Komatsu and Caterpillar. The gigantic trucks, 2 stories high and 500 tons fully loaded, shuttle back and forth following the orders of automated equipment instead of a driver in the cab. These six million dollar driverless behemoths, are one more instance of humans being removed from what was once an essential position, but one that is now a target ripe for automation as technology increasingly replaces what are sometimes high paying, but are often low skill, repetitious jobs.

Google may get all of the publicity with self driving cars racking up thousands of miles on public highways, but these trucks show drivers are not quite as essential as many used to believe as more instances illustrate the ease with which drivers become sidelined. It is beginning to appear that driving may quickly become one more pleasant pastime or hobby while chores such as commuting to work, even if in a separate individually owned vehicle, are something an owner can hand off to a computer while spending those minutes and hours more productively engaged.

Robot trucks in a Rio Tinto mine

Robot trucks in a Rio Tinto mine

The engineering and innovation that enables these cars and trucks to navigate public highways and massive mines is fascinating to the technology buff, but they bring with them a forewarning of a future where the motorhead may see his love of cars become an eccentric passion and his desire to drive a quaint throwback to a time when people used to drive themselves everywhere. Imagine that!

Link: The Australian via FuturePundit

Comments

  1. Gerry says

    The push towards automated transportation has been going on for some time. Self-steering systems for sailboats, auto-pilots for aircraft, cruise-control on your car to name a few. The Iron Ore Company of Canada has a fully automated electric rail system several miles long to get the ore from the mine to the crusher in Labrador City, Newfoundland & Labrador. I worked there in 1968 and it had been operating for several years before. This is not an underground miniature track system but a standard size system with cars that would fit on AMTRAC and with electric engines. The system is complete with automatic switch gear – and no engineer on board.

    • Paul Crowe says

      Rail systems have always seemed to me to be the easiest to automate, the rails themselves handle the steering, throttle brakes and switching could easily be done by computer, the current systems with a crew in the cab are a holdover from earlier times.

      • stoatwblr says

        Regarding the comment about automation of rail: 2 of the London Underground lines are virtually fully automated (the driver is simply there to push the “drive” button” and one is completely automated – but it was found the general public are pretty uneasy about a train without an obvious driver onboard, so the guards sit upfront at a swingout panel and push the “drive” button most of the time.

  2. Gerry says

    My point was that automation in transportation has been pushed for a long time. There is a copper mine in the US mid-west that has been operating automated ore trucks for quite a few years. The vehicles follow a wire on the ground. The shovel operator controls the exit of the filled vehicle. The only other human required is the laborer who flips the wire closer to the shovel so that the truck is positioned closer as the shovel digs further into the ore.