First there was the fully autonomous Cat 793F hauling truck, which has been working in Australian mine since 2012. Now there’s what Cat calls “an unbundling” of autonomous features to put slices of autonomy in other machines.
One of the first of these features will be truck spotting, expected to be in production next year for both Cat and competitive machines.
“With our autonomous trucks, the loading machine operator sets the load or stop point, and the trucks back straight back into it,” says Jag Samaraweera, subject matter expert, Cat Command. “The location and orientation have to be accurate.” (Command is what Cat calls its overall technological platform for fully integrated operation of autonomous, semi-autonomous and remotely-controlled mining systems.)
It turns out that this part of semi-autonomous control is not that complicated.
Say, for example, a shovel is loading trucks. The shovel operator positions his bucket in the best position to load a truck, and then hits a button on his display. A system shared by the two machines records the spot over which the bucket was placed using GPS. Now, as a truck backs up, the precise position for optimal loading is shown on the screen in the truck cab. “There’s a path to that spot on the reverse camera that shows you how to get there,” says Samaraweera. “When everything lines up, you’re ready to load.” If the shovel needs to be repositioned, the set-up process is repeated.
The machine-to-machine communication system doesn’t run on a proprietary fleet management system. “As long as you have a base station for correcting GPS, it works on competitive machines as well,” Samaraweera says.
Cat says truck spotting reduces truck exchange time, including truck repositioning when an operator hasn’t positioned a hauler properly. “In manned operations, the truck can be in queue and while the shovel operator is getting a bucket of material, the truck operator will usually wait until the bucket is in position so that he can spot his truck correctly,” Samaraweera says. “This way, he doesn’t have to wait for the shovel, which could shave 15 or 20 seconds off each cycle.”
It also opens up opportunities for dual side loading since it helps operators back up to a precise point on the blindside of a shovel while the shovel is loading another truck. Other benefits, according to Cat: it helps prevent collisions between trucks and loading machines, especially during periods of reduced visibility, and it cuts the training time for new operators.
While the benefits of this technology in a production-centric mining site are obvious, what about construction? “I can see this used in large construction sites where there’s a large movement of material from one spot to the other,” Samaraweera says.