Close up of heavy equipment tire with a mining machine in background.

Self-driving vehicles appear to be the future for mining operations; driverless construction equipment has already existed and autonomous hauling vehicles are already in deployment in mining operations in Western Australia, the equipment provided by the native firm Rio Tinto.

In Sweden, Scania has been at work to expand the repertoire of self-driving vehicles for use in mines to trucks. Their research has progressed well and their test vehicle, Astator, is already able to perform some tasks such as handling obstacles on roads and picking up and unloading material such as gravel. Tests in real-life circumstances are not far off from their research.

With the controlled environment of a mine, due to the contained area and the ability of an operator to control the other staff or equipment also working in or near the area, autonomous trucks are particularly suited for mine work and testing. This relationship is symbiotic as while mines provide an ideal place to test driverless vehicles, improvements in said vehicles will aid the mining industry by cutting costs.

That self-driving vehicles will cut costs, and any other effects of self-driving trucks on the mining industry, is as much a part of the research as it is on successfully constructing such a vehicle. As the current staple for vehicles tends more to the side of heavy construction equipment both costly and unwieldy, self-driving or otherwise, these vehicles could cut the costs for mining significantly. A specialized mining truck would yield significantly lower costs per tonne. Additionally, trucks can handle a wider variety of road conditions whereas heavy construction equipment requires reinforced roads, providing another noteworthy cost cut. Self-driving solutions may have already been available for the heavier equipment, but these trucks will prove even better.

Future goals for autonomous vehicles would be work in ports, and then work for long-haul deliveries between large transport centers. In the case of the transport sector, the self-driving vehicles would only be used between said transport centers, where their cargo would be distributed to smaller vehicles.