Rise of the Machines

Maybe Google is perceived as just a little too successful and a little too rich. Perhaps Tesla founder Elon Musk is seen as a little too forward-thinking; a bit too “out there”; and maybe a little smug. Whatever the reason, the notion of autonomous vehicles has to overcome an image and public perception hurdle every bit as much as it needs to overcome those of technology, legislation and — of course — safety.

At least that is the case in the field of on-highway vehicles. Off-highway is quite another matter.

In fact, global construction equipment giant Caterpillar recently disclosed that its autonomous mining equipment has hauled upwards of two billion tonnes of material, travelling almost 70 million kilometres in the process.

“…These machines haul ass almost as well as they haul rock…”

These incredible figures have been achieved in the space of just six years with a global autonomous mining equipment fleet of less than 300 individual machines. The largest of these is a Cat 793F, a massive haul truck that can carry almost 400 tonnes of material. (Yes, you read that right — 400 tonnes — That is equivalent to more than 250 Ford Focus cars). Based upon Caterpillar’s figures and my calculations, that is more than five million journeys without a single lost-time injury incurred.

Admittedly, it is impossible to make a like-for-like comparison between an off-highway installation and an autonomous vehicle taking to the roads. A mine site is entirely predictable; routes are unchanging; and drunk and distracted drivers and those that refuse to obey the rules of the road are not a consideration in such a controlled environment.

Some have suggested that the vehicle speeds achieved by mining trucks also makes a comparison with a road-going vehicle all but impossible. That is not the case, however. With some 4,000 horsepower lurking beneath its giant hood, a Cat 793F truck has a top speed of just under 70 km/hour. These things haul ass almost as well as they haul rock.

Legislators and public health officials are, of course, right to demand more conclusive proof of the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicle technology before it is unleashed on the world’s roads. YouTube videos depicting the aftermath of a Tesla-self-drive-gone-wrong will not aid the public perception of this burgeoning technology. And anyone that has seen the original Westworld movie will likely retain a deep-seated concern that autonomous vehicles could just “go rogue” at any moment.

Meanwhile, in the mining and extractive industries, the autonomous vehicle revolution is already in full swing. And the second industrial age is underway.

Mark Anthony is editor of DemolitionNews.com

Mark is a journalist, author, podcaster and daily live-streamer specialising in the field of demolition and construction.

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Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony

Mark is a journalist, author, podcaster and daily live-streamer specialising in the field of demolition and construction.

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