Hitachi Construction Machinery has announced it will begin testing of ultra-large autonomous excavators at an Australian mine in 2021.
The company says the excavator will be equipped with operator support systems, such as a collision avoidance system. Following initial testing, it hopes that some parts of the excavation and loading operation will be fully automated to enable a single remote operator to run multiple ultra-large hydraulic excavators.
Hitachi notes that the remote control system and driving support system for manned excavator and autonomous operation features can all be retrofitted onto its EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators, to enable mining site customers to use the equipment that they currently operate while supporting autonomous operation at mining sites in the future.
Operators of ultra-large hydraulic excavators are required to repeatedly perform complex operations for a long period of time while paying attention to surrounding equipment and the stability of the vehicle, in order to excavate and load mining resources in a safe and efficient manner. Because the safety and productivity of excavator operations largely depends on the operator’s skill and experience, building a production system that does not depend on this skill and reduces the operator’s workload are important issues at mining sites.
Hitachi has been working on automated mining technology for some time. In 2013, it ran long-distance remote-control tests of a hydraulic excavator located in its test site in Urahoro, Hokkaido, over an internet connection from approximately 800km (500 miles) away in the city of Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture.
The company also says it began researching autonomous haulage systems in 2009; currently, six of its rigid dump trucks are starting 24-hour autonomous hauling at Whitehaven’s coal mine in Maules Creek, Australia. Ultimately, the autonomous excavators will work in unison with the already established haulage systems, with the goal of autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators being to balance a high level of safety and productivity, even in the autonomous mining sites of the future, by sharing information with dump trucks and other machinery.