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Autonomous Navigation for Mining Dump Trucks

Autonomous navigation is making more sense in the tough times being experienced by the mining industry worldwide. Companies are continually seeking better technology to boost their performance, whilst lowering costs.

Safety has always been a priority in mining, so operational heads are turning to the use of autonomous driving to remove workers from danger zones, sites requiring explosives and from having to control monster trucks.

What is autonomous navigation?

This term is used when a vehicle is able to plot and execute a specific pathway plan without any concurrent human intervention. Remote navigation aids and/or on-board sensors provide the input to the vehicle’s movement and responses.

In 2016 Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu displayed a 250-ton dump truck without a cab at MinExpo, demonstrating how their pre-determined, satellite navigation could steer the vehicle. At the time, it was the world’s first autonomous dump truck of that size for mining.

Less than a decade later, entire mining operations without workers on site can connect to central computer systems with 3G to 5G wireless and fibre optic networks above and below ground. Ongoing improvements in network speeds allow for real-time communication to and from these sites.

Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System

Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) is a remote-control system designed around the 830E and 930E rigid dump trucks.  Mining operations using these vehicles are benefiting from autonomous haulage by improved safety, economy, productivity, and environmental conservation.  This system comprises original Komatsu technologies unrivalled by any other company.

Komatsu’s AHS first became an idea when Modular (Dispatch fleet management system creators) joined the Komatsu group in 1997.  Dispatch’s custom hardware and software produced operator reports during shifts allowing the optimisation of haul truck assignment to loading and dumping locations in a mining environment.  During the same year GPS was integrated into the autonomous design system.

Deployed in South America in 2008 to assist mining customers to efficiently move their product, the Komatsu AHS was the first commercially available system of its kind. Over the years, that system developed into their FrontRunner product, which manages various tasks, including:

  • machine operation and guidance with Dispatch handling fleet management;
  • location tracking; and
  • optimisation of production.

The challenge facing the system is that the balance of the equipment on mines are operator-driven, and FrontRunner has to accommodate this fact and ensure operator’s safety and equipment collaboration.  This inter-operability is handled by real-time monitoring of manned earthmoving equipment (wheel loaders, dozers, graders, and other vehicles on site) via GPS linking to the fleet management system.  Owing to the full-time monitoring of all equipment, the trucks are able to be positioned in the best loading position, while avoiding contact with surrounding machinery.

Obstacle detection sensors identify manned vehicles approaching the truck with the AHS and, if required, the truck will make an emergency stop to prevent collisions.

Komatsu has advised that FrontRunner has five primary elements to enable the safe operation of trucks and traffic control on mine sites:

  1. Auto Interaction:  Communication between autonomous haul trucks within the AHS – this enables navigation of intersections, as well as location of load and dump sites.
  2. Manual Vehicle Interaction: FrontRunner tracks manned vehicles and allows them to communicate with unmanned trucks.  The tracking of manned and unmanned vehicles enables autonomous operation of the trucks and interactive decisions based on manned equipment locations.
  3. Collision Detection System (CDS): Each machine has a ‘digital bubble’ ensuring that as soon as machines cross into another machine’s bubble it is detected and a warning signal is sounded.
  4. Obstacle Detection System (ODS): Unmanned equipment on the AHS system has an ODS unit at each end and will come to a stop if any obstacle is detected.
  5. Emergency Stop Button (ESB): All manned and unmanned vehicles on the AHS system are equipped with this button, which is able to stop all FrontRunner autonomous trucks in operation.

Komatsu is a global leader in the supply of Japanese-engineered mining, construction, earthmoving and utility equipment in Southern Africa. The MoJo Motor Industries (MMI) Team comes with over fifty years of combined experience in automotive, construction and mining equipment sales and support. MMI is the official Komatsu dealer for Zimbabwe. Please direct all your pre-sales or equipment enquiries on vehicle automation to our friendly staff.