The Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation (RTCMA), based at the university’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, has been working with Rio on the development and deployment of technologies for fully autonomous, remotely operated mining processes since 2007.
The university said the partnership’s next phase would provide a step-change improvement in safety, predictability, precision and efficiency of typical surface mining operations through automation.
RTCMA director and principal research engineer Dr Steve Scheding said programs at the centre already covered sensing, machine learning, data fusion and systems engineering.
“The centre’s work so far has resulted in a number of major research advancements targeted at improving the safety and productivity of autonomous operated mining sites,” he said.
One of the centre’s projects has created an autonomous drill rig.
“This autonomous capability also allows the operator of the rig to be located in a much safer area of the mine site – or indeed anywhere on the planet,” Scheding said.
“This increases the safety of the operator, and also greatly improves drilling precision in operations.”
RTCMA will continue its training program for automation engineers and technicians.
Rio head of innovation John McGagh was pleased to see the partnership continue.
“Our technology professionals have worked alongside top notch research minds to achieve our goal,” he said.
“With mining increasingly taking place in remote parts of the world, tomorrow’s mines are likely to rely on remote monitoring and control, with employees running the mines from cities thousands of kilometres away.
“With the input of the best academic minds we are already making this a reality.”
The company remotely manages automated trucks and equipment for its iron ore operations from Perth and reached a milestone earlier this year, moving 200 million tonnes of material in the Pilbara via autonomous trucks.
“The autonomous haul trucks are a key component in Rio Tinto's strategy of employing next-generation technology to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve health, safety and environmental performance,” McGagh said.
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