Australia’s Bis and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have announced a “world-first” 50:50 joint venture to deliver what they describe as the next generation of mine site automation to the global resources sector. “The Auto-mate joint venture represents a significant advancement in mining automation,” Bis CEO, Brad Rogers said. “The flexible and scalable solution is the ultimate partner in mining automation, delivering superior technology, to a wider range of miners, at a lower cost.”
Bis is renowned for delivering innovative haulage & equipment solutions to mining customers for over 100 years. IAI is a large, advanced engineering company with a 20,000 strong workforce, 5,000 of whom are engineers with world-class expertise in robotics and automation. IAI have been designing and deploying robotic and autonomous vehicle and asset solutions for air, sea and land, often in remote and harsh environments, for over four decades, and have automated over 35 different asset classes.
Offering fully-scalable and adaptable levels of automation, Auto-mate’s technology is tailored to each mine site’s requirements. With an open architecture model, the system connects any asset to the operation’s fleet management system, regardless of brand, age or type of asset or desired level of automation. “Auto-mate is a game-changer because of its exceptional utility,” Rogers said. “It is a gateway to automation for small and big miners. It is uniquely flexible so that a customer can choose how far down the pathway to automation they want to go. It is asset agnostic. It can be deployed at any mine, on any asset and to any degree of automation the customer chooses…automation will be accessible by a larger section of the mining industry because the Auto-mate technology platform, created by IAI, allows miners to automate any asset, and retain long term optionality on fleet decisions.”
The move comes just over three months after Wenco and Oxbotica announced their development of an “Open Autonomy solution for mining” but Todd Peate, Non-Executive Director at Auto-mate, says he sees this more as collective industry progress. “We have watched with some real interest in the work Wenco are doing in the market. We don’t look at this as a threat or a first or second place thing, we look at this as stimulating competition and democratising autonomation for the market. It’s a good thing as far as we are concerned.” He adds: “Those with an interoperable mindset are quite aligned on what they are seeking to achieve. With that part of the market, we are quite aligned and will look to work collaborative for improved customer outcomes. Our model is simply not predicated on bundling automation services with equipment sales or maintenance, we do not see this as a sustainable position to take and want to lead this industry to open autonomy.”
Peate added that a differentiator for Auto-mate is the depth of capability and experience that the JV partners bring. “This isn’t just about bringing superior interoperable and flexible automation technology to the mining sector – it’s about the technology being backed by the unparalleled combination of global expertise in robotics and automation combined with industry experience in the resources sector.” He says a key strength comes from the algorithms in the system developed by IAI over more than 15 years of ground autonomous operations. One example is the ability for the autonomous vehicle to operate safely manned and unmanned.
Auto-mate uses unique building blocks that combine smart navigation solutions using GPS, IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) for precise vehicle positioning, with real time accurate perception configuration, based on LiDARs (Light Detection and Ranging), radars and cameras. Sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities control the mining equipment to optimise the mission according to the real time environmental conditions and operational changes. The perception module and artificial intelligence computing run on the mining equipment and include obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities, object qualifications and real-time smart path planner.
Peate summarised the upside for Bis & for the wider industry: “There is definitely a need by Bis customers looking at autonomy and wanting to distance from the large OEM autonomy systems. Moreover, there is an additional need to provide an autonomous solution to the Bis solutions such as Rexx, which will be customer-driven. The existing and future Bis technology program will be automation ready. But this isn’t just about Bis assets. Part of the Auto-mate vision is to make autonomy accessible to all miners by configuring the right tailored solution according to their needs and requirements. We want to make sure the customer has a full suite of choices on an automated fleet.”
IAI subsidiary ELTA’ CEO, Yoav Tourgeman, said the interoperable scalable system was the perfect union of cutting-edge technology and practical application. “Auto-mate delivers a flexible approach to automation, delivering usability for multiple levels of automation across all haulage assets and ancillary equipment, with one central command centre.”
The point about automating ancillary equipment is also highlighted by Peate as important: “It will only be with full autonomy that you can transform mining and challenge design and operational paradigms where people and equipment need to work together to maximise resource extraction. In a value liberation and safety improvement lens, the first tranche of that is haul trucks, that’s what customers have done and the market has responded.”
Rogers said the Auto-mate JV was another significant step in Bis’ commitment to customer-led innovation: “This is just the latest in a series of innovations to emerge from the Bis development pipeline, following the development of the ground-breaking mine haulage vehicle, Rexx, and cutting-edge underground grader, Razor.”
Peate also told IM that the underlying technology has been tested and proven outside of mining by IAI for many years. “You will, and can see the automated dozers, haulers and light vehicles. These are real, existing and available solutions today.” This includes many dozers used in mining, but the JV represents a real focussed entry into mining. He added that Auto-mate is working right now on some mining trials in Australia with more information to be shared in due course.