Trains, ships, automobiles: The autonomous evolution continues – by Eric Atkins (Globe and Mail – January 3, 2018)

Driverless freight trains are roaring across Australia’s outback, part of Rio Tinto Ltd.’s bid to cut costs and boost efficiencies as it moves iron ore from its mines to the ports.

The mining company ran its first autonomous train in late September, and now runs 60 per cent of its rail journeys in “attendant mode” – a person is in the cab but not in control. Rio Tinto plans to have all its trains in Western Australia operating without crews by next year, assuming it wins the backing of the rail regulator.

The autonomous trains are running 6 per cent faster than conventional locomotives, while reducing maintenance costs and improving safety, said Stephen McIntosh, the Rio Tinto executive in charge of the miner’s growth and innovation group.

“There is clearly a value case, but one of the strong drivers for autohaul is the safety case,” Mr. McIntosh said by phone from Brisbane, Australia.

Resource companies are turning to autonomous technology to run more of their operations, from trains and trucks to ships and highly automated ports. As auto makers and governments debate how driverless cars and trucks will mesh with urban and rural road systems, the companies that mine and transport industrial commodities are removing humans from the controls as a way to cut costs while improving speed, safety and efficiency.

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