Mining giant BHP Billiton has decided to expand the deployment of automated haulage vehicles to coal mines in eastern Australia following successful trials at its other operations.
BHP president of coal operations Dean Dalla Valle has announced that autonomous robot trucks will be deployed at two of the company's coal mines following the success of trials in New Mexico, as well as the introduction of the vehicles to iron ore operations in the Pilbara.
"We're looking at two opportunities in coal to do the same thing, in Queensland and NSW," Dalla Valle told The Australian. "There's no doubt it will happen."
He said the deployment of autonomous trucks at coal mines in eastern Australia is likely to commence within the next 12 months.
The news arrives just a month after the mining giant flagged an expansion of its autonomous haul truck fleet at iron ore operations in Western Australia's Pilbara.
BHP already has six autonomous trucks in operation at its Newman iron ore mine and another six vehicles at nearby Wheelarra. The company now plans to introduce a second autonomous truck circuit to the newly opened Jimblebar iron ore mine by the middle of the year.
The miner has cited both safety concerns and productivity goals as the motivations for expanding its trial of robot haulage vehicles in the Pilbara.
Dalla Valle said the technology could be readily adapted to haul coal as well and would simply involve using the same model of trucks to carry a different product.
The adoption of automated technology at mining operations in eastern Australia lags far behind the Pilbara, where Rio Tinto first launched trials of driverless vehicles back in 2008 with the assistance of Japanese engineering giant Komatsu.
Rio Tinto now has a fleet of 30 autonomous trucks at two of its Pilbara mines, with plans to bring that number to 150 in total. Fortescue Metals Group currently has 12 trucks at its Solomon Mine sites, courtesy of Caterpillar, and Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill mine has been designed specifically to cater to automated technology.
Trials of robot haulage vehicles at coal mines on the other side of the continent have barely just started, however, with Stanwell's Meandu coal mine commencing a three-year trial last year with the help of Hitachi Construction Machinery.