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The first two mines in the world to start moving all of their iron ore using fully remote-controlled trucks have just gone online in Western Australia's Pilbara.
Mining giant Rio Tinto is running pits at its Yandicoogina and Nammuldi mine sites, with workers controlling the driverless trucks largely from an operations centre in Perth, 1,200 kilometres away.Let's be honest. This is not about reducing fatigue or taking away dangerous jobs. This is about slashing costs. Truck drivers in remote locations are very expensive.
Josh Bennett manages the mining operations at Yandicoogina mine north west of Newman and is closely involved with running 22 driverless trucks on the site.
Mr Bennett said the two pits are the largest of their kind in the world.
"What we have done is map out our entire mine and put that into a system and the system then works out how to manoeuvre the trucks through the mine."
The company is now operating 69 driverless trucks across its mines at Yandicoogina, Nammuldi and Hope Downs 4.
The trucks can run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without a driver who needs bathroom or lunch breaks, which has industry insiders estimating each truck can save around 500 work hours a year.
Mr Bennett said the technology takes away dangerous jobs while also slashing operating costs.
"We have taken away a very high risk role, where employees are exposed to fatigue," he said.
Rio plans to fully automate its trains by the middle of next year once the Office of Rail Safety includes the technology in its safety guidelines.
Now a single person hundreds or even thousands of miles away can monitor multiple trucks, replacing many much more expensive drivers in one fell swoop.
And the same thing is going to happen to millions of interstate truck driving jobs in the US. Taxi and Uber drivers will vanish as well in the 2020-2025 time frame.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock