Komatsu developed driverless autonomous trucks many years ago. Mines in Australia and Chile already use the massive haulers to cost-effectively move vast quantities of material. The technology has now come to Canada, and SMS Equipment teamed up with Komatsu’s Modular Mining Systems to develop a virtual training room designed to simulate the nerve center behind the operation of a mine employing driverless rigs.
“Even though the trucks operate without drivers, it takes humans to make the Komatsu FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) function correctly,” said Scott Schellenberg, Project Manager, Autonomous Haulage Systems.
“A mine using the system needs a command center with a controller, or controllers, at the helm. Our virtual training room accurately simulates the environments the controllers will be working in.”
Autonomous dump trucks are equipped with vehicle controllers, an obstacle-detection system (ODS) and a wireless network. Information on target course and speed is sent wirelessly from the supervisory computer to the driverless trucks while the GPS ascertains their positions. When loading, the dump trucks are automatically guided to the loading spot after computing the position of the GPS-fitted excavator or loader bucket. The supervisory computer also sends information on a specific course to the dumping spot.
“The ODS detects an obstacle and stops the truck, which then waits for a human pit patroller to investigate, clear the obstacle and release the truck to go back to work,” said Schellenberg. “That’s just one of many scenarios that controllers may encounter. Our simulator mimics those situations.”
Built for the future
SMS Equipment’s virtual training room is located at its 63 North branch in Fort McMurray, Alberta, close to where a mine is using autonomous trucks on a trial basis; however, the servers that run the system are housed at SMS’ Acheson offices in Edmonton, Alberta. Kim Young, Supervisor of SMS’ Infrastructure Department, said that’s by design.
“We built the system with flexibility and the future in mind, because we’re confident in AHS growth in Canada,” said Young. “As that happens, additional SMS Equipment locations can branch off the main server in a variety of ways and replicate our current training room. It’s a fairly cost-effective way to expand support.”