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BAEconomics report puts Rio Tinto on autopilot

The report – ?Autonomous and remote operation technologies in the mining industry: benefits and costs? – shows that using these emerging technologies will improve health and safety, attract more employees to the industry, allow the industry to improve its competitiveness and spur the growth of a new sector.

Remote operation technologies allow an operator to move machinery from a remote location, as remote as hundreds or thousands of kilometres away. Rio Tinto is testing automated trucks, blast-hole drill rigs, sorting machines and trains that are being controlled by its operations centre in Perth.

The report states that ?automated systems allow humans to communicate with and control machinery remotely without exposure to hazardous mining environments, reduce or entirely eliminate health and safety risks, and make for a more attractive workplace, including for women?.

The skills and labour shortage faced by the industry could be overcome by offering staff a location and work setting such as an office environment in Perth.

Costs associated with changing to a remote workplace are substantial but counter-balanced by reduced health and safety costs, efficiency gains and environmental benefits.

The report says that these technologies represent a class of innovations that involve a step-change in the research and development effort. To this end, Rio Tinto funds three Australian research centres, including the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation.

New sector growth in supplying equipment, skills and technology for remote operation set-up is a real possibility, as the Australian mining technology services and equipment companies are already dominant players in the global market.

According to the report, ?from a longer-term perspective, increased automation may sustain Australia?s competitiveness compared to a situation where resources decline in importance, relative to those from competitor countries with equally good or better resource endowments but fewer constraints?.

Source: Rio Tinto/BAEconomics

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