Five-year boost for Rio Tinto-Sydney Uni autonomy research

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The multimillion-dollar mining autonomy research partnership between the Rio Tinto mining group and the University of Sydney is set to enter the next phase after the two bodies agreed to a five-year continuation of the program.

Five-year boost for Rio Tinto-Sydney Uni autonomy research
One of Komatsu's autonomous mining haul trucks.

Having worked on the development and deployment of technologies for fully autonomous remotely operated mining processes since 2007, the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation (RTCMA) based at the University's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies will now look at using automation to provide a noticeable improvement in the safety, predictability, precision and efficiency of typical surface mining operations.

The centre will also continue its training program for mining automation engineers and technicians.

"The range of programs under way at RTCMA crosses areas such as sensing, machine learning, data fusion and systems engineering," says Dr Steve Scheding, RTCMA director and principal research engineer at the centre.

"The Centre's work so far has resulted in a number of major research advancements targeted at improving the safety and productivity of autonomous operated mining sites.

"One of our projects has created autonomous mining drill rigs that can bore holes into the ore body efficiently and reliably. This autonomous capability also allows the operator of the rig to be located in a much safer area of the mine site — or indeed anywhere on the planet," Scheding adds.

"This increases the safety of the operator, and also greatly improves drilling precision in operations."

Rio Tinto reached a significant milestone earlier this year with its autonomous haul trucks moving 200 million tonnes of earth at the mining giant’s iron ore mines in the Pilbara region — remotely managed from its Perth offices about 1,500km away.

"Our technology professionals have worked alongside top notch research minds to achieve our goals," Rio Tinto Head of Innovation John McGagh says. "With mining increasingly taking place in remote parts of the world, tomorrow's mines are likely to rely on remote monitoring and control, with employees running the mines from cities thousands of kilometres away.

"The autonomous haul trucks are a key component in Rio Tinto's strategy of employing next-generation technology to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve health, safety and environmental performance," McGagh adds.


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