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July 15, 2010

"Blade Runner" Australia-style: Mining robots dig for ore in the Outback


Excerpts from Robert Guy Matthews' March 2, 2010 Wall Street Journal story follow.


Rio Tinto is connecting its Australian mines to satellite links so workers more than 800 miles away [below]


can remotely drive drilling rigs, load cargo and even use robots to place explosives to blast away rock and earth.

The company's Perth operations center, which relies on banks of high-tech equipment to manage one of the oldest and dirtiest jobs around, is a harbinger of new techniques that are allowing miners to go to more remote places, dig deeper and get ore to the market more quickly. It also aims to save Rio Tinto money by using fewer workers and keeping them out of harm's way.

The innovation is born from necessity. Easy and accessible mineral reserves have been largely tapped, pushing miners to search more remote locations for iron ore, copper, coal and other metals and minerals. The shift could help Rio and other miners recruit employees who don't want to work in remote locations that might be more politically and environmentally hostile.

Robots can drill about one million holes into the ground automatically in one year, eliminating thousands of man-hours of work.

At the Pilbara mines, robotic machines [below]


monitored by electronic eyes that transmit images and data back to the Perth operations center scoop out ore, dump it onto conveyor belts and spray it to remove dirt and reduce dust. Once an area in a mine has been processed, the robotic machines portion out volatile explosives, reducing the potential for injuries.

Rio Tinto began testing its remote operations project about five years ago with one mine in the Pilbara region, which was linked to a small operations center in downtown Perth. It has since built a larger operations center near the Perth airport, which employs 300 and monitors and controls some aspects of 11 mines in Pilbara.

A... concern was making sure there would be enough security so a computer attacker couldn't electronically take over the mine. "We have a whole army of security geeks," said Mr. McGagh. "We needed massive amounts of security and physical security deep inside to prevent a takeover."

Getting employees comfortable working alongside robots took time. But Mr. McGagh say workers have come to value the reliability of the robotic systems. "People feel safe around the robots because they are predictable."



Like tears in rain....

July 15, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Besides Blade Runner, this reminds me of the moon rock harvesters in the 2009 film "Moon."

Posted by: Deceptology | Jul 16, 2010 2:41:49 AM

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