Autonomous haulage systems are on the rise, with major fleet expansions underway in Canada and Australia.


Within an autonomous fleet, trucks are equipped with vehicle controllers, high-precision GPS, obstacle detection technologies and a wireless network system that optimises fleet management. A remotely located supervisory computer controls the movement of the trucks, enabling the unmanned fleet to operate in strict accordance with a complex plan. 


Because each truck performs exactly as programmed, operational variability is essentially non-existent, enabling mines to achieve consistent, reliable and repeatable performance for every cycle, shift, and day. 


Customers leveraging Komatsu’s FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) have reported reductions in load and haul unit costs by more than 15 per cent compared to conventional haulage methods, according to the company, with optimised automatic controls reducing sudden acceleration and abrupt steering to yield a 40 per cent improvement in tyre life. 


By systematically optimising operations, autonomous haulage systems contribute to a smaller carbon footprint in the form of less energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Additionally, Komatsu’s electric-drive autonomous trucks generate less waste and noise than traditional mechanical- drive machines, facilitating easier compliance with environmental regulations set forth by the government and community in which a mine resides. 


The transition to AHS operation presents an opportunity for mines to upskill and develop their workforce. 


Newly defined roles take people out of repetitive tasks and offer safer, more productive and challenging alternatives, thus empowering employees to be responsible for decision making and giving them greater control over their environment. 


The shift also enables mines to attract a tech-savvy generation of young miners who bring a fresh approach and a new perspective to the industry. 


During its more than 10 years of commercial operation, Komatsu’s FrontRunner system has achieved an injury-free safety record and hauled around 2 billion tonnes of material. 


The system’s navigational controls work to prevent collisions between trucks, service vehicles or other equipment units. Should the on-board obstacle detection systems identify another vehicle or person within an unsafe proximity, the autonomous trucks will reduce speed or stop immediately, making the system safe and reliable. 


With fatigue, weather extremes, and hazardous road conditions no longer posing a threat to human well being, operations can focus less on keeping truck drivers safe and more on the business of mining. 


Today, more than 100 AHS trucks operate in Australia and the Americas, where the system runs around the clock, hauling three different commodities, in six mines, across three continents. 


Komatsu is this month due to expand its presence in the Pilbara with the delivery of 41 autonomous-ready 930E-5 ultra-class trucks to BHP’s South Flank.