Since 20 years of self driving, there hasn’t been a single human-caused crash.

Since 20 years of Self driving, there hasn’t been a single human-caused crash.

Self driving cars have received a lot of attention, but Sandvik’s autonomous loaders and trucks have been in use in actual mines for over 20 years.

That equates to more than 2 million operational hours of self driving underground, with no human-involved incidents. Sandvik recently introduced the new generation. The loader’s bucket filling has been automated for the first time. This ensures that the whole manufacturing cycle, from loading to hauling and dumping, can be completely automated. “It wasn’t a simple task,” says Jouni Koppanen, Sandvik’s Senior Systems Engineer for Automation. “You must take into account the numerous varieties of mines and rock sizes, and fill the bucket only the correct number. But we did it, and we’re the only ones with an autoloader.”

Setting the tempo for Self driving vehicles

Sandvik’s focus has remained consistent since the company began developing self driving technology in the 1990s: to remove people from potentially hazardous underground environments and to increase customer productivity, but technology has, understandably, advanced. “In shorter periods too, technology is evolving,” Koppanen notes.

“In shorter periods too, technology is evolving,” Koppanen notes. “We and the mining sector, where conditions are harsh and activities operate continuously 24 hours a day, seven days a week, face this important task. Sandvik has accomplished this through the use of a robust and intelligent system that is capable of evolving indefinitely.

Self driving vehicle Brimming with creativity

Because of Sandvik’s automatic system, the loaders and trucks learn the routes the first moment they reach a tunnel. A route is mapped and recorded by the vehicle’s intelligent device, which is powered by a series of lasers. Sandvik’s proprietary algorithms, along with sensors and gyroscopes, then ensure the computer learns where to go underground while GPS is unavailable.

“This dynamic part system is hard to operate together,” Koppanen said. “A number of experts from different fields are required. We can function together well, though, and can produce a complete overview of the whole scheme. That’s why we’re in the lead.”

The onboard cameras allow an operator in a comfortable control room above ground to see exactly where the machine is going. Operators can direct the machine as to when and where it should go. However, it is the intelligent system and algorithms that do all of the heavy liftings: following the predetermined route, calculating speed, controlling brakes, steering, loading, hauling, and dumping — everything.

Underground loaders, unlike above-ground equipment, are articulated vehicles that can move in both directions, forward and reverse, at the same speed. In narrow tunnels, they are extremely maneuverable. The machines are also designed to withstand altitude, heat, water, and corrosive environments, among other things, in a mine.

And it was precisely these environments that were a driving force behind automation all those years ago.

Testing technology

“A whole mine has been automated by one of our customers in Australia,” Koppanen notes. “They do work as many as before, but in cozy workplaces, the balance is now over floors.”

“Each operator can now control multiple loaders at the same time, while the automated machine does all the heavy lifting,” says Koppanen. “Our automated loaders and trucks can work at an accurate, consistent, and efficient level. This lowers the number of accidents while increasing uptime and productivity.”

It’s great to put your own ideas to the test in a realistic setting.

Technology for testing

Sandvik’s underground test mine in Tampere, Finland, allows it to put new innovation and technology to the test. “We test our technologies to ensure they are robust, fit for purpose, and safe for use in the underground mining environment,” says Wayne Scrivens, Sandvik Vice President Product Line, Load and Haul.

Sandvik Research Engineer for Research and Technology Development Annukka Kokkonen works in the test mine.

“Not many engineers or coders get to see what works with their own eyes. To see it from the research phase to the customer — the entire journey.”

Thorough testing, in conjunction with close customer collaboration, helps to ensure that Sandvik develops solutions that assist its customers in overcoming their most difficult challenges.

“Right now, in an almost isolated zone from people and other machinery, our automatic loaders and trucks work. If something gets in the way, we have protection sensors that trigger the brakes,” says Kokkonen. “In the future, we plan for automatic loaders and trucks that operate securely in the same section of a mine along with traditional machinery and people.”

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A thrilling future

Sandvik has been making waves in the electrification of its underground equipment for years, in addition to automation. The company introduced the world’s first electric cable loader in the 1980s. Sandvik introduced a battery-powered loader in 2016, providing the same mobility as a diesel engine but with lower heat and noise emissions and zero exhaust gas emissions underground.

“In the future, there will be less reliance on diesel engines,” Scrivens predicts. “The emphasis will shift toward electrification of the driveline and the use of electric loaders and battery technology, working in tandem with automation.”

And, with projects like Borden Lake in Ontario, Canada, the future is not so far away. Sandvik is collaborating with gold miner Goldcorp to build one of the world’s first all-electric mines. This translates into cleaner air, lower emissions, and lower costs.

“Conclusion

Friends’s, Automation has the potential to help minimise the amount of collisions on our highways. Driver activity or negligence is a factor in 94 percent of collisions, according to government statistics, and self driving cars can potentially minimise driver error. Increased autonomy has the ability to reduce reckless and unsafe driving habits.

Check out the launch video and Sandvik’s YouTube channel here.

Read more about Automine Concept in Sandvik’s press release here.

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