For those of us kids of the 80’s I’m sure you can remember the awe-inspiring moment the Big Foot 4×4 remote controlled monster truck car was launched. A fixture on The Early Bird Show, every Saturday morning, five lucky kids would battle it out on the racetrack, driving their 4×4 RC cars around a course. Five laps around the studio, smashing into the trackside and each other while Australia watches, the victor would take home the esteemed vehicle and return home a local legend.
I don’t know how many stamped, self-addressed envelopes I sent off diligently in the hope that Marty Monster would draw my name out of the barrel so I could be one of the steely eyed racers, ready to take on the track and claim their prize. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and like most of us I didn’t get to play with RC vehicles until my kids found one under the tree delivered by Santa.
‘So, what does an iconic 1980’s toy have to do with mining?’ you ask.
We’ve seen some significant advancement in recent years in the technology to control large autonomous vehicles, and with COVID 19 and the recent outbreak at Tanami, the case for this type of technology grows stronger. Although not new to the Australian mining scene (Rio Tinto kicked off the move to automation through its Mine of the Future initiative in 2008), the range of machinery now able to be controlled remotely is expanding.
Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions recently announced the evolution of the Leopard DI650i down-the-hole (DTH) drill rig to support fully autonomous operation. Their new iDrill automation platform expands the existing on-board automated drilling cycle and connects with Sandvik’s AutoMine Surface Drilling system to enable fully autonomous fleet operation from a control room. The system provides increased accuracy in working to the drill pattern as well as improved reliability and efficiency by reducing operator errors.
This is a prime example of how we are seeing the shift away from individual automated toward an ‘ecosystem’ of platforms operating with a connected fleet of automated mining equipment.
This new release has features such as drilling stabilisation, automated collaring, automated cleaning and detaching from hole. The result is an optimised drilling cycle where the operator only needs to monitor the process.
The rig is engineered to ensure consistent high-quality drilled holes by minimising common drilling errors, such as hole inclination, depth, and positioning errors.
The drilling cycle allows manual intervention and can be activated or deactivated at any stage of the cycle. In addition, the operator can add optional wait stages between automated sequences, if for example, additional check-ups are needed for safety reasons or difficult drilling conditions.
This will also change the role of operators, from handling a single machine to controlling as many as three (four in the case of Cat) drill rigs remotely, through line-of-sight or control room operation.
Now if you’re more comfortable with the idea of controlling one RC rig at a time, you might be interested in something a little lighter, but no less fun. Komatsu have recently unveiled the first fully electric remote controlled mini excavator. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, this little beast produces zero exhaust emissions and makes minimal noise – so you won’t bother the neighbours when you fire it up at 6am on a Saturday.
Touted by Komatsu as being “designed to lay the foundations for commercialisation of fully electric construction equipment of the future”, this 3-tonne mini allows you to get started on that backyard project from the comfort of your deck chair avoiding the inevitable back ache from sitting in a bumpy digger for a day. With no need for a cab, the machine operates off a wireless LAN connection that Komatsu says will operate under any work environment.
Not a bad toy to find under the Christmas tree and the promise of things to come in larger capacity diggers.
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