Rio Tinto to expand fleet of autonomous haul trucks in the Pilbara

Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) has confirmed it will expand its fleet of autonomous trucks operating in the iron ore-rich Pilbara region of Western Australia, as part of a US$5 billion productivity drive.

The mining giant signed deals with mining equipment suppliers Caterpillar and Komatsu, who will retrofit a total of 48 trucks with autonomous haulage system (AHS) technology.

This conversion of traditional trucks to autonomous vehicles represents the first time AHS technology has been deployed on Caterpillar haul trucks, with the deal set to expand Rio’s autonomous fleet by more than 50% into 2019.

Of the 400-truck fleet operated by the company in the Pilbara, more than 130 will be autonomous by the end of 2019.

The company reported that last year each of its autonomous haul trucks operated an additional 1,000 hours on average and at 15% lower load and haul unit cost than conventional vehicles.

“Rapid advances in technology are continuing to revolutionise the way large-scale mining is undertaken across the globe,” said Rio’s iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury.

“The expansion of our autonomous fleet via retrofitting helps to improve safety, unlocks significant productivity gains, and continues to cement Rio Tinto as an industry leader in automation and innovation.”