schwit1 quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Mining companies are rolling out autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, which will boost efficiency but also reduce the need for human employees. Rio Tinto uses driverless trucks provided by Japan's Komatsu. They find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors. The company's driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel -- a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine's largest operational cost. Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn't need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. "All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up," says Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto. They also improve safety. The driverless locomotives, due to be tested extensively next year and fully deployed by 2018, are expected to bring similar benefits. They also anticipate savings on train maintenance, because software can be more predictable and gentle than any human in how it uses brakes and other controls. Diggers and bulldozers could be next to be automated.
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