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Autonomous haulers coming soon to an operation near you

By |  March 30, 2022
Photo:

Yanik

A framed piece of art hangs just around the corner from my office doorway, depicting the concept of mining on the moon.

In the piece, a massive haul truck containing three operators appears in the foreground with a cavernous pit at the center and the earth in the distance. The image has hung above a nearby copier for the nine years Pit & Quarry has operated in our downtown Cleveland office, largely going unnoticed as staffers pass by. But as I sat to write this month’s column exploring the latest on autonomous hauling, that far-off depiction of the lunar hauler came to mind. 

Upon reflection, the idea of mining on the moon still feels like a galaxy far, far away. But given gains of late in autonomous hauling, the days of quarrying on a celestial body might be nearer than we all think.

Rapid developments

The idea of autonomous haulers becoming mainstream in aggregate operations was “out there” not too long ago. But the technology is already here in some cases and getting closer to reality in yet others.

Bell Trucks America, for instance, recently established a partnership with Pronto AI to power off-road trucks with artificial intelligence. Now, Bell says its commercially available off-road trucks will be the first driven by AI-powered autonomy.

This far-off depiction of a lunar haul truck hangs in the North Coast Media office in Cleveland. Photo: P&Q Staff

This far-off depiction of a lunar haul truck hangs in the North Coast Media office in Cleveland. Photo: P&Q Staff

Separately, Doosan Infracore North America shared with P&Q ahead of our April 2022 edition that it is nearing the commercialization of autonomous vehicles. Aaron Kleingartner, product and dealer marketing manager at Doosan, noted that his company could get there in the next three or four years.

“The concept is pretty simple,” Kleingartner says.

Consider, too, that autonomous haulers aren’t new to mining. Major mining companies are already utilizing them to reduce operational costs, enhance productivity and elevate safety. Affordability is a barrier that’s kept the tech out of crushed stone, sand and gravel sites, but the time for autonomy might be arriving sooner than later given the intensifying workforce shortage.

“A process improvement manager for us is talking about autonomous trucks,” says Kenny Knowles, vice president of Georgia operations at Vulcan Materials, who weighs in on workforce issues in an article that appears in the magazine’s April 2022 edition. “The cost of doing that, in the short term especially, is something we’re going to have to look at.”

Once the net benefits of autonomous haulers are made clear, expect the first wave of aggregate producers to dive in.

As for mining on the moon? Well, the best stance at this point might be to “never say never.”

Featured photo: Bell Trucks America

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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