By Paul Moore
May 9, 2023 - For some years now, the options for a fleet scale and fully operational open pit autonomous haulage system (AHS) have been relatively limited – Caterpillar and Komatsu by far lead the way with their Command for hauling and FrontRunner systems respectively – at multiple operations around the world. Beyond that, OEM-agnostic ASI Mining working with Epiroc has proven its system at Roy Hill, and Hitachi Construction Machinery at Whitehaven Coal.
Aside from these players there are a number of companies offering viable AHS, mainly OEM-agnostic, using different approaches and technology combinations. But these tend to involve, to date, small groups of trucks and mainly smaller size class trucks. These include SafeAI, Pronto, xtonomy, Auto-mate, Steer, Zyfra and others. China can be considered as a distinct market and as such has several significant tech players, some running larger fleets, including TAGE Idriver, Waytous and EACON.
But the arrival of any new AHS entrants is still big news, and it looks like Hexagon’s Mining division will be next – which is significant given Hexagon’s existing importance in the global mining sector in areas like fleet management, collision avoidance, fatigue management, and drill & blast integration and optimisation. Plus it has already made announcements about autonomy collaboration, notably with Liebherr. It has also partnered with Mineral Resources in Australia on an autonomous road train project for iron ore haulage, integrating Hexagon’s drive-by-wire technology with an autonomous management system to orchestrate vehicle movement.
Hexagon recently told IM: “Like our autonomous road train project, a complete AHS system is in development. Hexagon is one of the few technology companies with a comprehensive set of competencies from onboard autonomy and by-wire, world perception including autonomous and person/object/human operated vehicles, fleet and mission management, positioning including the industry leading NovAtel systems, and reality capture including the industry leading Leica solutions. We are actively discussing projects to bring these stacks together in a single in-pit autonomous solution.”
IM understands that the Hexagon AHS is already at demo stage at several proving grounds and with some mining customers, with more details to come as it progresses and is given customer permission to discuss it.
The Liebherr collaboration was announced during MINExpo 2021 in September 2021 and stated: “Hexagon technology, including its autonomous mission management system, will be used in the mine automation options offered by Liebherr to customers. A high level of safety, flexibility and seamless integration are the hallmarks of Liebherr’s offerings, which includes its complete autonomous haulage solution.”
Hexagon added: “The autonomous mission management system will orchestrate autonomous fleet and unmanned mine traffic movements throughout the mine for optimised autonomous haulage. It is fully integrated with our fleet management and enterprise analytics and reporting portfolio products.”
The statement added that integrating the power of Hexagon’s technologies with Liebherr’s interoperable solutions delivers the next generation of mine automation with enhanced on-board intelligence, reducing dependency on site infrastructure and centralised supervisory systems.
For its part, Liebherr during Bauma in October 2022 said its first AHS deployment will be in 2023 in Australia: “Liebherr Mining is currently setting the foundation for the first deployment of its autonomous haulage solution, which is scheduled to commence in Australia in 2023. Liebherr’s autonomous haulage solution delivers the next generation of on-board intelligence, with reduced dependency on site infrastructure and centralised supervisory systems. Together with vehicle-to-vehicle technologies, Liebherr’s smart autonomous solutions provide on-board obstacle avoidance and load area path planning capabilities for optimisation of traffic flow. Liebherr’s solutions offer a high level of safety integrity with the introduction of an 8-layer safety concept in combination with the latest on-board perception technologies for long range, high resolution and 360-degree coverage. This makes the Liebherr system a unique offer to the market with important operational advantages when compared to other systems currently operated or offered.”
It added that the deployment in Australia will include both Liebherr’s Autonomy Ready Kit, and the Liebherr Autonomy Kit, which will integrate with the customer’s preferred traffic and fleet management systems. This follow’s Liebherr’s philosophy of open and interoperable mining architecture, allowing customer’s the freedom of choice in selection of best-in-class base machines, automation, traffic management, and fleet management systems. The Autonomy Ready Kit is available to purchase for the Liebherr mining truck model T 264, T 274 and T 284.
In its 2022 Annual Report, Liebherr further stated that the initial fleet of autonomous T 264 trucks will be delivered to complete the final stage of AHS validation within a production environment, scheduled to commence in Australia in 2023.