Copyright © 2016 Rio Tinto.
With significant advances in artificial intelligence and automation, it's inevitable that it will threaten the jobs of millions of works in future. But it seems this has already started as mining company Rio Tinto has begun rolling out autonomous trucks, drills and trains that don't have anyone on board.
Each of these trucks are is the size of a two-story house according to MIT Technology Review and they are capable of hauling iron ore 24 hours a day, because they have no driver.
These are not the only autonomous vehicles at the mine, they are also working alongside robotic drilling rigs and the company behind it Rio Tinto are also in the process of upgrading the locomotives that can transport iron ore hundreds of miles to a port. Once upgraded, these trains will be able to drive themselves and load and unload the ore automatically without any human intervention.
The trucks themselves were designed by Japan's Komatsu and they use GPS to find their way around the mine and they use radar and laser's to stop them from colliding with other objects.
Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, told MIT Technology Review that it is actually about 15 percent cheaper to run autonomous trucks compared to those with a human behind the wheel. This is mainly because the trucks don't have to stop every time a new shifts starts and of course, there are no toilet breaks. But not only that, the trucks are much safer because they are much more predicable than humans when it comes to things like pull up for loading.
Atkinson told MIT Technology Review: "All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,". They also improve safety, he says.
The driver-less locomotives are also expected to bring similar cost savings because they tend to be more gentle on the brakes and other controls than humans will ever be. The company hopes to bring similar automation to diggers and bulldozers too.
Atkinson realises that although these technologies boost efficiency, reduce costs and improve safety, they also have an impact on staffing levels even though addional jobs will be created to service and manage autonomous vehicles. "It’s something that we’ve got to carefully manage, but it’s a reality of modern day life", he says.
I think this is a touchy topic, but personally I am all for this kind of automation, especially when it comes to mining. Most mining accidents tend to be a result of human error. Robots don't check messages on their mobile, they don't fall asleep at the wheel and don't stick their hands in places where they shouldn't.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments below and be sure to check out the video too of these monstrous mining machines in action!