Mines without miners? Not quite. Still, a technology boom in robots, drones, driverless trucks and pilotless trains is beginning to reshape one of the world’s most labor-intensive industries, portending automation of logistics, supply chains and mapping and allowing development of mines in regions once thought too dangerous or remote to exploit.Already about 200 driverless haul trucks are working iron ore mines, mainly in Australia. Meanwhile, mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. (RIO), which funds one of the world’s largest non-military robotics programs, will soon use unmanned trains to deliver cargo to the coast and set drones aloft at its remote mines.
Drones can monitor stockpiles, map exploration targets and track equipment and will eventually deliver parcels to workshops according to Accenture Plc. -- and on a schedule far ahead of that envisioned by Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos, who one day wants Amazon’s books and DVDs delivered instantly to customers via miniature helicopters.
“Come and see me in about October,” said John McGagh, head of innovation at Rio Tinto in Brisbane, Australia, where staff use the world’s largest multi-content touchscreen to monitor mining operations from Utah to Queensland. “You will see drones flying around. That’s not so long away.”
It may take a while, but technology is beginning to transform one of the dirtiest and most dangerous extraction businesses, giving it a metallic sheen of glamour to match the appeal of some mining share valuations.Back to top