Driverless truck trials at iron ore mines

STARING down a truck the size of a building is scary enough - what about when there is no driver?

At its two iron ore mines in Western Australia, BHP Billiton is using 12 autonomous or driverless haul trucks as part of a trial that began in August last year.

Now its coal arm - BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance - is considering bringing them to its coal mines in the east.

BMA is "studying autonomous haulage options" that could be used at any of its seven Central Queensland operations.

"BMA continues to assess and review new technologies where it allows our business to be more competitive, and to improve safety," a spokeswoman said.

"BMA has also conducted an autonomous drilling operation at Blackwater, the results of which are being analysed."

A decision on using the automated machines is yet to be made, she said.

At the opening of its Jimblebar iron ore mine on Wednesday, BHP iron ore president Jimmy Wilson said the testing of the six human-free Caterpillar 793F trucks at the site would now be expanded to include a further six at a mine next door.

BHP is not the only miner looking into replacing man with machine.

Competitor Rio Tinto has run its Mine of the Future program since 2008, vowing to use autonomy to "achieve massive efficiency in bulk mining".

FACTBOX

The BHP autonomous CAT 739F trucks

-Weight: up to 390 tonnes

-Height: 13m

-Top speed: 60kmh fully laden.

-Engine power: 1976kw



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