Hexagon: Mining safely with rock-solid technology

April 7, 2022  - By
Photo:BeyondImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

A mining road-train loaded with ore passes through an outback town. A Hexagon system will guide autonomous movement of similar heavy vehicles. Photo: BeyondImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning and Mining divisions recently partnered with Mineral Resources Limited (MRL), a mining services company, to develop an automated road-train solution for deployment on MRL’s haulage fleet over the next two years. The solution integrates drive-by-wire technology with an autonomous management system to orchestrate vehicle movement in road-train haulage to improve safety, productivity and sustainability. We asked Lee Baldwin, the director of Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division, a few questions about the system.

What does an automated road-train do?

It is for haulage on roads hundreds of kilometers long. It first will be used to move ore from a mine processing facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, about 1,200 kilometers north of Perth, to Port Hedland, where it is loaded on ships bound for Asia for use in steel mills. Typically, this is done using either rail or a road train, which is a highway truck pulling multiple trailers. Today, a person drives a road train.

What motivated this project?

Mines have difficulty finding drivers for mining trucks and road trains because the mines are very far away from the nearest city, Perth, so they must fly workers in and out, which is very costly. Many of them are on 10-day shifts. Also, there are safety concerns.

How does an automated road-train work?

It requires three typical subsystems that you would have on any autonomous vehicle. The first one is positioning, including redundant GNSS receivers with our TerraStar correction services. The second is a perception system for collision avoidance, using our HxGN MineProtect Collision Avoidance System. The third one is route planning. We will start by platooning, with a driver in the first truck, which will be followed by three unmanned ones, each towing multiple trailers. Each truck will have the positioning, perception and route-planning systems. Later, we will achieve full autonomy by removing the driver from the lead vehicle.

How will the transfer at the mine work?

At a mine site, the road train will be commissioned in a sequestered area, then sent to a loading area where it will be loaded with ore, either automatically or by a manned wheel loader. Next, it will travel 200 kilometers to the port, where it will dump the ore. Finally, it will be decommissioned and queued up for the return journey.

Which parts are already in place and which ones are still being developed?

At Hexagon, we are already putting technology in manned mines. For example, we already have the collision-avoidance system, a fleet management system, and some sitewide planning systems. However, the trucks that the customers are choosing will have to be converted to be drive-by-wire to accommodate our autonomy system. They will use two PwrPak7 GNSS receivers and the TerraStar correction service.

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.