The world’s largest robot just made its first delivery of iron ore in Western Australia

A file photo of a Rio Tinto train in the Pilbara. Image: Supplied
  • Rio Tinto’s train robot just delivered its first load of iron ore in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
  • Operators at Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500 kilometres away monitored the train via remote cameras.
  • It’s a milestone in Rio’s $940 million AutoHaul program.

Rio Tinto, the world’s largest autonomous truck operator, has just received the first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train, said to be the world’s largest robot, in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, travelled over 280 kilometres from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert on Tuesday.

Operators at Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth, more than 1,500 kilometres away, monitored the train via remote cameras. Public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras.

Rio Tinto’s $940 million AutoHaul program is on schedule to complete by the end of the year. Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometres with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking 40 hours.

“The program will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots,” says Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port and Core Services Ivan Vella.

“This program symbolises both the pioneering spirit and innovative talents of many people across Rio Tinto and shows our absolute commitment to improving safety and productivity, as well as enabling greater flexibility across our operations.”

“We are working closely with drivers during this transition period as we prepare our employees for new ways of working as a result of automation.”

Rio Tinto is also expanding its fleet of autonomous haul trucks, controlled from Perth, with 30% of its fleet, or about 130 trucks, autonomous by 2019.

The auto system allows trucks to be operated by a central controller rather than a driver. It uses pre-defined GPS courses to automatically navigate roads and intersections and knows actual locations, speeds and directions of all vehicles at all times.

Rio Tinto started deploying autonomous technology in 2008.

In the Pilbara region, Rio Tinto operates the world’s largest integrated portfolio of iron ore assets, a network of 15 iron ore mines. Its earnings from iron ore were $US11.52 billion in 2017, the largest part of its business.