Tag Archives: radar

Oxbotica and TRL draft off-highway automation Code of Practice

Oxbotica and TRL have piloted the use of what they say is the first Code of Practice for the safe and cost-effective deployment of autonomous vehicles in unstructured off-highway environments, such as mines, with a live trial conducted in a quarry using a number of off-road vehicles.

The Innovate UK-funded consortium has developed and demonstrated capabilities to adapt and retrofit autonomy, using robust low-cost sensors, to any vehicle, as well as drafting a Code of Practice that identifies the key elements for safe and efficient deployment of autonomous vehicles in off-road industries, the companies say.

Off-road environments feature more varied hazards and less structured scenarios than on-road settings with no universal highway rules, such as speed limits or junction etiquette. A Code of Practice helps standardise across industries and allows learnings from each domain to be shared, Oxbotica and TRL say.

“Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a wide variety of unpredictable objects in their environment, either because they block the vehicle’s path, such as undergrowth or tree branches, or because engaging with them is part of the vehicle’s primary function, such as harvesting or excavating,” they added.

With autonomous vehicles commonplace in many industries such as mining, working to deliver safety, efficiency and productivity, the Code of Practice will help organisations transition to new working practices and harness the potential benefits with no impact on safety, according to the firms.

To demonstrate the Code Of Practice and highlight its potential to work across a range of vehicles and industries, Oxbotica and TRL deployed a Ford Ranger and Range Rover Evoque, retrofitted with Oxbotica’s world-leading autonomy software platform, in a UK quarry in April 2021. The vehicles were fitted with a full suite of sensors, including LiDAR, Radar, and stereo cameras.

Oxbotica’s technology has already operated in a range of environments without road markings across Europe, Asia and America. Its software seamlessly transitions between sensors to operate across multiple domains and environments, according to the company.

“The software is capable of using sensors independently or fused in any combination, meaning vehicles can drive with or without maps, depending what is available at any given time,” Oxbotica added.

Ben Upcroft, VP of Technology at Oxbotica, said: “Our autonomy software platform is capable of being integrated with any vehicle, in any environment. In order to harness the true power of this technology, operational regulations need to be developed in unison to ensure safe and efficient deployment. Consortiums such as this are a key stepping stone in ensuring the safe operation of autonomous vehicles in complex scenarios, and enabling the scale up to full commercial deployment in industry settings.”

Dr Ianto Guy, Project Lead at TRL, said: “This Code of Practice seeks to provide high-level guidance to organisations, in all sectors of the off-highway industry, on the ways in which working practices should be adapted to ensure that the adoption of autonomy is as smooth and safe as possible. The aim is that this code will support safe practice, build public confidence, and encourage the cooperation between organisations across all industries employing off-highway autonomous vehicles.

“It is hoped that off-highway industries will use this code of practice as a starting point for discussion and build on the recommendations made here to develop comprehensive best practice guidelines.”

Komatsu HD1500-8 haul trucks reach new heights for MinRes’ Iron Valley mine

Mineral Resources Limited (MRL) has looked to speed up the cycle time from the pit to the crusher at its Iron Valley mine site in the Pilbara of Western Australia by integrating a fleet of Komatsu HD1500-8 haul trucks into the iron ore operation.

The time taken to haul ore from the pit floor to MRL’s locally developed crusher has been found to make a significant difference in the efficiency of the mine’s operation, and in its environmental footprint.

MRL’s technological point of difference has helped solidify its position as a leading mining services company, with EBITDA from this business coming in at more than A$300 million ($235 million) in its 2020 financial year.

In addition to its mining services business, Mineral Resources has its own mining operations, providing a great research and development platform. At the Iron Valley mine site, the 1.6 km climb from the pit floor to the crushing facility and return was the test ground for this new Komatsu equipment.

According to MRL, the cycle time with existing dump trucks was 23.84 minutes, but a new faster machine could complete the journey in 21.63 minutes – a 9.2% improvement.

Significantly, the newly available vehicle also increased payload by 10 t (the trucks come with a rated payload of 142 t), enabling MRL to complete its entire process with the need for one less vehicle in its fleet.

“Following the success of the HD1500-8, MRL placed a milestone order for 10 of our machines,” Komatsu Sales Person, Jason Lambert, said.

The first of Komatsu’s HD1500s went into service with MRL towards the end of 2020, and the remaining nine are scheduled to be road freighted from Perth this quarter.

“From a miner’s perspective, cost is a major determinant – capital cost, life cycle cost and productivity,” Lambert said. “In this instance, there was a consistent theme of 10% improvement – in purchase cost, payload and operating efficiency – an additional 10 t, 10% faster and 10% cheaper.

“But increasingly, there’s also the consideration of health and safety.”

The Komatsu HD1500-8’s Collision Awareness System, incorporating eight on board radars and six cameras combined by one algorithm into a 360° overhead view of surrounding conditions, was a major boon to operators, according to Komatsu.

In-cabin ergonomics including specific cooling systems, low vibration operation and noise attenuation pegged at 72 db met contemporary operator expectations, too.

The operator also had the option of dialling down fuel use in a range from 90 litres per hour, to 80 l/h to achieve a full two shifts of operation between refuelling.

“The pit depth at Iron Valley is 160 m, and it’s a 10% gradient from the pit floor to the top of the pit with another 900 m from the top of the pit to the crusher,” Lambert said. “The HD1500-8 climbs at 13 km/h, achieves 60 km/h on the flat and descends at 22 km/h. The operator can alter the fuel use according to gradient and also the load for the return trip to the floor.

“It’s as if the HD1500-8 has been purpose built for the mine and, in many respects, that is the case.

“Increasingly we’re capable of working with each specific operator to fine tune our machine to their exact requirements.”

Fortescue expands automation focus to light vehicles at Chichester Hub

Fortescue Metals Group says the future of mining mobility is being advanced at its mines, with the successful operational deployment of autonomous light vehicles (ALVs) at the company’s iron ore mining operations in the Chichester Hub of Western Australia.

Developed by Fortescue’s Technology and Autonomy team as a solution to improve the efficiency of the Christmas Creek mobile maintenance team, ALVs remove the need for fitters to make around 12,000 28-km round trips annually to collect equipment and parts, the company estimates.

With the assistance of Ford Australia, four Ford Rangers have been retrofitted with an on-board vehicle automation system to support the driverless equipment transfer service, which will improve efficiency and safety by enabling team members to spend more time on maintaining assets.

The system features an integrated LiDAR/Radar perception system that facilitates obstacle detection and dynamic obstacle avoidance, a comprehensive independent safety management, and fail safe braking system and extensive built-in system monitoring and fault response capability.

The successful deployment of ALVs at Christmas Creek will provide the opportunity to implement a similar system at other operational sites to improve safety, productivity and efficiency, Fortescue says.

Fortescue Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Gaines, said: “Since the outset, Fortescue has been at the forefront of innovation in the mining industry, underpinned by our value of generating ideas. It is this focus on technology and innovation that has driven our industry-leading operational performance and cost position.

“The autonomous light vehicle project is a significant advancement of our in-house automation capability, building on our leading autonomous haulage system program which has already delivered significant productivity and efficiency improvements for the business.

“With the flexibility to introduce similar systems into other mobile assets, this project is fundamental to our future mobile equipment automation projects.”

Ford Australia President and Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Birkic, said: “We’re very proud that our award-winning Ford Rangers have been used as part of the Fortescue Metals Group autonomous light vehicle project.

“Ford, globally, is at the forefront of research into autonomous vehicles, and working with companies like Fortescue is critical to gaining an insight into specific user applications.”

Oxbotica and Navtech working on radar-based automation solution for mines

Oxbotica and Navtech have announced the joint product development of a radar-based navigation and perception system, to be launched in 2020.

The product represents the latest advancement in radar-based technology from Navtech and the partnership marks an important milestone in Oxbotica’s plans to take its automation-focused software from development towards commercial deployment.

The multi-module localisation system (radar, vision and laser) allows customers to deploy autonomy in both on-road and off-road locations, whether in mines, ports or airports and whatever the weather conditions where standard GPS or LiDAR is not possible, the companies said.

They explained: “The Oxbotica and Navtech product will not be reliant on any external infrastructure and can operate on its own or be fused with other location services driven by GPS, LiDAR or laser vision as part of Oxbotica’s modular and integrated approach.”

Oxbotica has already successfully tested its proprietary algorithms in a variety of environments and conditions as part of its Localisation module development and wider full-stack autonomy solution. This will be twinned with Navtech’s expertise in bringing autonomy sensors to market around the world.

Oxbotica says its autonomous driving software has been deployed in many different environments including cities, mines, airports, quarries and ports as part of its Universal Autonomy commitment: enabling any vehicle in any industry to drive itself with total freedom from external infrastructure dependency.

Navtech is a leading innovator, award-winning designer and manufacturer of commercially deployed radar solutions with safety at its core, according to the company. It manufactures a range of sensors that provide the performance to deliver on the promise of all-weather sensing in real world applications. This sees its sensors used in mission-critical applications around the world including security surveillance, road safety systems and industrial autonomous vehicles.

Ozgur Tohumcu, Oxbotica CEO, said: “This collaboration with Navtech is a key milestone in bringing autonomy especially to off-road domains such as mines, ports, or airports where existing LiDAR or GPS may not function effectively due to weather or operating conditions such as dust, rain, or snow.

“Navtech is a fantastic partner with their unbeatable track record of producing autonomy sensors – powering off-road autonomy around the world for nearly two decades. Incoming demand from customers and our own market research prove that there will be wide applications of this product addressing both on-road and off-road deployments.”

Phil Avery, CEO of Navtech, said: “Navtech are delighted to be working with Oxbotica on this project. Despite the potential of radar very few companies have successfully developed the necessary algorithms to use it properly. Oxbotica are world leaders in this area and, together with our high-performance radars sensors, we believe the resulting system will deliver a step change in the performance available for all-weather all-environment localisation and perception. This is crucial for automation in more challenging environments such as mines and ports.”

Why the Pilbara leads the way in haul truck automation

A presentation at last month’s AusIMM Iron Ore 2019 Conference, in Perth, Western Australia, made it clear that the state’s steel raw material miners are leading the way when it comes to applying autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in open-pit mining.

Richard Price, Manager of Projects for Mining Technicians Group Australia (MTGA), has been involved in this technology space for a number of years, having initially witnessed an automation trial involving two trucks at Alcoa’s Willowdale bauxite mine, in Pinjarra, all the way back in 1994.

At the conference, his paper set out the state of play in Pilbara when it comes to AHS, explaining: the first commercial scale trial in iron ore took place at Rio Tinto’s West Angelas operation in 2008, there are two original equipment manufacturer (OEM) AHS operating in the Pilbara – Caterpillar Command for Hauling and the Komatsu FrontRunner – and the three major iron ore miners (Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG)) were leaders when it comes to using autonomous trucks.

FMG is the largest operator of autonomous trucks in the Pilbara – making it effectively the largest in the world – with 128 at the end of June (according to the miner’s June quarter results). Rio, meanwhile, had 96 up and running, with BHP having a total of 50, as per publicly released data.

“FMG has plans to automate all of their trucks, including the first non-OEM trucks on an alternate OEM system,” Price said, with him adding that the company has now automated a number of Komatsu 930E vehicles using the Caterpillar Command for Hauling AHS: a world first.

“Additionally, FMG is also operating multiple Caterpillar OEM trucks onsite, in another world first having three classes of truck on the one system at the same site (789D, 793F and 930E),” he said.

While Komatsu, historically, has more time in the field with commercial autonomous applications – it surpassed 2 billion tons of autonomous haulage in November – than Caterpillar, the Illinois-based OEM has received more global success, being able to point to AHS deployments in the oil sands of Canada, the coal mines of British Columbia and Vale’s iron ore operations in Brazil.

“With regards to the on-board AHS componentry, the Komatsu system is somewhat simpler than the Caterpillar system,” Price said. “The significant difference is that Caterpillar utilises a LiDAR (Velodyne 64-layer), with RADAR, whilst the Komatsu system uses RADAR only. However there are additional differences in the on-board controls – the Caterpillar system is known for having more significant vehicle on-board computing power, versus the Komatsu system which places greater reliance on the wireless network whilst performing most of the calculations on the server side.”

Even with the on-board computing power of Caterpillar’s system, the performance of these trucks only tends to be as good as the communications infrastructure they are tied to.

Presently, only the Komatsu system has announced successful trials of using 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology as the communications system which commands the trucks, with the Caterpillar system presently reliant on wireless networking technology, “of which all current implementations rely upon (globally)”, Price said.

One of the issues with such technologies is the trucks stop driving, or operating, if they lose communications, with the trucks communicating, via this network, their position to each other and directional heading and speed.

The way the trucks re-start their driving routine is, at present, via manual visual inspection, which can be a process that takes time.

And, according to Price, a significant problematic issue with trucks stopping driving across all the Pilbara sites is the triggering of a false positive object detection.

“These are often referred to as ‘ODs’ on the various sites which utilise AHS,” Price said, with many operators blaming undulations in the road, pot holes, or small rocks for these occurrences.

Again, manual inspection is normally required as part of an operation’s procedure for re-starting the autonomous trucks.

Out in front

Despite these communication and OD problems, Western Australia still leads the way when it comes to automation with the Pilbara hosting around 75% of the circa-370 trucks operating globally.
What is the reason for this? Price highlighted five bullet points in his speech:

  • High cost of operators – annual salaries for truck operations are, in general, over A$100,000 ($68,882);
  • Ease of implementation – “the Pilbara miners generally have open ground, and have had an opportunity to trial the technology in a dedicated work area prior to a site-wide implementation,” Price said, adding that the topography has also made it simpler to install the required communications systems;
  • Scale and longevity of operations – Previously cost-benefit analysis of AHS included an approximate cutoff point of 12 Mt/y total material movement, which equates to six to eight off-highway haul trucks, Price said. All operations exceed this, as well as having long mine lives;
  • The fact that all the sites which have presently deployed AHS are currently fly-in/fly-out mines which transport the staff to site from their point-of-hire, and;
  • Experience of technology and processes in the Pilbara – miners in the region have long-term familiarity with fleet management systems and technology adoption.

Price said: “Western Australia does not necessarily have any unique or special advantage, however, it has made sense for Pilbara iron ore operators to implement AHS for the reasons outlined above.”

The benefits

MTGA’s Price pointed to several quotes from the mining companies themselves to explain the benefits of automation.

Rio Tinto, in 2018, said: “On average, each autonomous truck was estimated to have operated about 700 hours more than conventional haul trucks during 2017 and around 15% lower load and haul unit costs.”

FMG, in the same year, said it was seeing 32% productivity improvements with autonomous trucking.

Vale, meanwhile, previously told Mining.com: “The adoption of autonomous trucks at Brucutu (iron ore mine, in Brazil) is expected to reduce fuel consumption by more than 10%. Maintenance costs, in turn, should fall by another 10% and off-road truck tyres, which cost up to $40,000, are expected to have 25% lower wear. The overall gains translate into a 15% increase in equipment life, reducing investments in new acquisitions and reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time.”

Price said: “There are clearly differing metrics being monitored by these three operators at present. However, irrespective of the metrics monitored, AHS obviously has had a significant impact on the operating environment.

“It appears that the increase in utilisation of the autonomous trucks is the most significant benefit that they provide. The decrease in costs is also helpful, but the increase in predictability of the truck fleet is what drives the actual benefit.

“A number of materially measurable but difficult to quantify benefits exist from the rendering of trucks autonomous as well. These include less maintenance, better tyre wear (or increased tyre life), reduced fuel costs (for the same tonnage output) and better overall truck performance.”

For instance, Komatsu has previously said the optimised automatic controls of AHS reduce sudden acceleration and abrupt steering, resulting in a 40% improvement in tyre life compared with conventional operations.

And, of course, there are the numerous safety benefits that come with using automated haul trucks.

The future

While Price believes that mining will continue to become more autonomous, he said the mine of the future was likely to involve the automatic distribution of data files that trucks would work off without human involvement.

“For now, technologies such as LTE for better communications network coverage, the use of drones, long-range cameras or other autonomous ground vehicles to conduct the manual visual inspection and other autonomous equipment will be implemented,” he said.

He added: “It is likely that there will be a continuum of development over the next 20-30 years.

“Mining companies and OEMs will have a lot to learn from automotive vehicle automation. Obviously, there are more cars on the roads than there are off-highway haulage trucks on minesites. Therefore the general costs of automation kits will come down, and there will be an opportunity to conduct operations in a GPS-denied environment.

“Already, the costs of select items such as the LiDAR utilised by the Caterpillar system have halved in price since they were used a decade ago. Solid state LiDARs, as opposed to rotational, are being implemented in the automotive industry already.”

He pointed to MINExpo 2016, in Las Vegas, when Komatsu showcased its cabless, driverless truck as one development to look out for.

“It is predicted that in the longer-term future (ie 20-30 years’ time), cabs will be an additional and expensive option to add onto an off-highway heavy haulage truck,” he said.

“Whilst the future is autonomous, it will be technologically more advanced than the present technologies,” he concluded, adding that, given its head start, one would expect the Pilbara iron ore industry to deploy these technologies first.

MTGA’s Richard Price has also written a business case study on AHS, published by AusIMM – www.ausimmbulletin.com/feature/autonomous-haulage-systems-the-business-case/ – and, in partnership with Whittle Consulting’s Nick Redwood, put together an Autonomous Haulage Systems Financial Model Assessment – www.whittleconsulting.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Autonomous-Haulage-Study-Report-Rev-F.pdf

PE firm Jolimont on board with indurad radar offering

METS-focused private equity group, Jolimont, has made another investment in the sector, this time putting €4 million ($4.5 million) into RWTH Aachen University spinoff indurad.

Indurad calls itself the global leader in radar-based automation and productivity solutions for mine sites, train loadouts, stockyard equipment and shiploading facilities. Its patented 2D and 3D radar systems are installed at mining operations and ports worldwide to increase ore throughput and minimise downtime and collisions.

Reik Winkel, indurad CEO and co-founder, said: “indurad’s radar solutions remove bottlenecks in the movement of ore from mine to ship to market at a fraction of the cost of building larger facilities.

“Bringing Jolimont on board as shareholders represents a significant step in our strategy to build the company to €50 million in revenue.”

Winkel said the key reason for selecting Jolimont as an investor was their strong network in the mining industry and deep understanding of innovative technologies. Co-Founder Christian Augustin acknowledged the success of Jolimont as an active shareholder in Newtrax, recently acquired by Sandvik, making them “perfect partners” for indurad’s next growth phase.

Jolimont’s Lyle Bruce and Lex McArthur will be joining the indurad Board of Directors.

Bruce is a Partner of RCF Jolimont and was formerly Managing Director of GroundProbe, a leading radar-based rock-slope monitoring provider, from 2003 to 2013. He is Chairman of MineWare, a dragline monitoring software company and Chairman of Blast Movement Technologies, providing solutions that accurately locate ore and waste zones after blasting.

McArthur, a Founding Partner of Jolimont, is also a director of Blast Movement Technologies and is a director of Minnovare, specialising in improving the productivity of underground drilling operations.

McArthur said: “We undertook extensive due diligence on indurad and three things stood out; their best-in-class radar systems, the glowing testimonials from their customers and partners in terms of value delivered, and the high calibre of their engineering and management team.”

indurad was founded in 2008 as a spin-off of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany. It has a team of more than 100 employees globally and offices in Germany, Australia, Canada, USA, Brazil, Chile and South Africa.