Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has revealed that one-fifth of its pit-to-port train movements, in kilometres, are now done by autonomous trains - with the drivers simply standing by, ready to take over in event of an incident, and to drive the train in more complex environments.
The autonomous train project is being used in the company's network of 15 iron ore mines in Pilbara, a province of Western Australia, in a railway network of 1,700km.
"The automation of the Pilbara train system [called Autohaul] is continuing to progress well, with around 20 per cent of all train kilometres now completed in autonomous mode, but with drivers on-board managing the remaining safety and reliability systems," claimed the company in a statement released this week.
"Improvements to system performance continue and the project is on schedule to be completed by the end of 2018," it added.
It's not the company's first automation project. Indeed, Rio Tinto has arguably been a bigger pioneer of self-driving technology than Google, Volvo or any of the other names more commonly associated with autonomous vehicle technology.
And in 2015, it opened the world's first automated mine, which also included self-driving haulage trucks.
"[Rio Tinto's] Yandicoogina, Hope Downs 4 and Nammuldi mines are the first in the world to move all of their iron ore using fully automated, driverless haulage trucks," claims the company.
It continued: "Rio Tinto first introduced the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at its iron ore operations eight years ago as part of its 'Mine of the Future' programme and is now the world's largest owner and operator of autonomous trucks. The group has 71 AHS trucks across three Pilbara iron ore mines, moving about 20 per cent of the operations' material."
In addition to autonomous trucks, the company also operates seven "fully autonomous drill systems" to drill production blast holes, and also made use of drones to, for example, measure stock pile long before drones started to be adopted elsewhere in industry.
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