Autonomous Self Driving

Autonomous technology is here, but not in cars yet

The largest robot in the world isn’t a Gundam nor is it a Jaeger. It is actually an autonomous train located in Australia where it services are used to haul stuff between mines for Rio Tinto. The large mining corporation dubs it as the largest robot in the world and it is named, AutoHaul.

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The train system services 14 mines and if you would like to imagine, it isn’t some short train. It spans extremely long in order for it to haul as much material and the entire system is remotely monitored by a team located in Perth. The crew who is monitoring the trains are located 1,500km away. That is like me monitoring a train system from my home in Petaling Jaya and the train is located in Bangkok.

The train system cost Rio Tinto USD$916million and it took them 10 years to get it up and running. Since July 2018, the trains have clocked a million kilometres already.

Lido Costa, the principal engineer on the AutoHaul™ project, says the trains are indeed giant autonomous robots because once they are set on their course, they make all the decisions.

“There is a train controller at the Operations Centre in Perth (1,500 kilometres from the Pilbara) who sets the route. But once it’s running the onboard computers and the computers at the Operations Centre take over and it makes its own decisions,” says Lido.

“The network of computers makes sure the train keeps to the speed limit, makes sure it doesn’t run into other trains or other trains don’t run into it, makes sure there’s nothing obstructing the level crossings,” explains Lido.

“And there are a whole lot of other devices in place to protect people and equipment. For instance, if one of the wheels has a fault, the train will be bought to a stop. Or if one of the couplers in the train is broken, the system will pick it up and stop the train.”

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