Can Miners Take Robot Truck Technology From Pit to Main Street?

(Bloomberg) -- Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., the iron ore miner that’s operated giant driverless trucks in Australia for seven years, plans to study opportunities to apply its know-how in the technology to urban settings.

The producer has got the pedigree. Autonomous haul trucks have traveled about 26 million kilometers (16 million miles) at its sites since being introduced in 2012 and it’s planning to add automated ship loaders at ports.

Expanding its focus to cities means Fortescue is entering the race to develop self-driving technology that’s being led by global giants including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co.

A research center will be opened in the outback city of Karratha, home to about 20,000 people in the Pilbara iron ore region of northern Western Australia, to develop technologies, Fortescue said. The town is also planning to test an autonomous shuttle bus service, similar to trials of Navya SAS vehicles in Paris , Abu Dhabi and Perth.

“The emergence of autonomy is one aspect in which our world is changing rapidly,” Fortescue Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Gaines said Thursday in a statement. “We’ll be exploring all facets of the future of mobility including software, hardware and various forms of mobility solutions, to see where the opportunities lie.”

Fortescue is expanding its existing fleet to add 100 driverless trucks at the Chichester Hub, and has begun a test of autonomous light vehicles at the Christmas Creek mine. Iron ore sector competitors including BHP Group and Rio Tinto Group also deploy large fleets of driverless haul trucks.

U.S. rail freight operators have studied Rio’s $1 billion autonomous train network in the Pilbara to examine the application of similar technology in their industry, the Association of American Railroads said in a filing last May.

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