Automated mining operations go open architecture

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Mining operations are the ideal application for autonomous vehicles, with the potential to increase both efficiency and workforce safety. To this end, Wenco International Mining Systems (a subsidiary of Hitachi Construction Machinery) and Oxford, UK-based Oxbotica have teamed up to develop an open autonomy solution for mining.

The intention is for the system to provide customers flexibility and efficiency in autonomous mining deployment, enabling them to operate any open standard-based vehicle and integrate it into their existing fleet. The two companies hope this development will help meet growing demand in the industry, with the number of autonomous haulage trucks around the world expected to grow by more than 300% by 2023.

For a system to be classed as an open system, it must meet four key elements – it must be fully defined so different parties can work within the same framework, stable, published, and unable to be controlled by a single party.

Open Autonomy technologies use open standards to facilitate visibility and control of systems without direct human interaction, relying heavily on open standards, such as ANSI/ISA-95 and those advanced by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These standards are fully defined, published, and voted on by industry experts from suppliers and mining companies — ensuring an absence of bias. Wenco has worked closely with the ISO and other bodies in recent years to advance these standards in support of its open approach to industrial autonomy.

The two companies note that an open approach avoids vendor lock-in and offers customers the freedom to choose preferred technologies, independent of their primary industrial systems. Furthermore, it enables highly skilled autonomy suppliers that may be new to mining to integrate with customers’ existing operations while backed by a proven expert in the industry.

Ozgur Tohumcu, CEO of Oxbotica, said, “The mining industry has proven to be at the forefront of deploying early generation autonomy systems because the business case has been clear for operators. However, even years after early deployments, less than 2% of vehicles are autonomous in mines around the world.

“We strongly believe an Open Autonomy architecture that enables new and innovative entrants, like Oxbotica, to join and speed up autonomy adoption will be beneficial for the whole industry.”

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