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Caterpillar makes some of the most impressive mining machines in the world. Its trucks go where no other trucks can, performing complex tasks and hauling raw ore like no other trucks can, largely thanks to their massive size.

However, few may be aware that Caterpillar isn’t letting the monolithic size of its fleet vehicles stop it from pioneering autonomous technology.

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Caterpillar has $2 billion in R&D investments in autonomous vehicles. Source: Caterpillar

Caterpillar unearths crucial materials with autonomous trucks

At CES 2021, Caterpillar showcased its autonomous truck technology on vehicles likely larger than most homes.

Caterpillar is no stranger to the concept of autonomy. As of writing, it boasts a $2-billion investment in research and development — and currently holds 16,000 active patents in the autonomous vehicle space. Part of the reason it’s dived so deep into autonomy is the intense needs of mining operations across the globe.

Caterpillar Loading Haul
Caterpillar has found autonomous trucks very promising. Source: Caterpillar

Caterpillar’s autonomous trucks can run for 24-hour shifts

The profitability of mines depends on their productivity, which in simple terms means how much rock and raw ore teams lift from the Earth in a given time span. This often means 24-hour work schedules on rolling shifts, which can wear on workers’ bodies and minds, creating a need for sudden and unexpected downtime.

Caterpillar has explored the idea of “autonomizing” all of its massive trucks on worksites, and found it promising.

Caterpillar Night
Autonomous trucks can work 24/7, without fatigue. Source: Caterpillar

Caterpillar’s autonomous trucks have already moved globe-spanning amount of dirt

Caterpillar’s Autonomous Haul Trucks weigh 284.6 tons without a load — with some of the larger vehicles shouldering another 687.5 tons of Earth fully-loaded.

Caterpillar has experimented with autonomy for more than 30 years as of writing, but the technology appears to have hit its stride. During its CES presentation, Caterpillar said its autonomous trucks have already moved enough dirt to build a four-lane highway spanning the entire world — more than 6 ft (1.8 m) tall.

Virtual Map
A virtual map displaying ‘manned’ areas in blue and autonomous zones in yellow. Source: Caterpillar

Autonomous trucks saw no time lost from crashes or errors

In sum, a total of 4.9 trillion pounds of material were moved by Caterpillar autonomous trucks. This real-world performance is a breath of fresh air in the autonomy industry, often filled with futuristic predictions and showy sizzle reels.

 

Caterpillar Remote
The controller can work longer, on-site but out of danger, reducing fatigue. Source: Caterpillar

Of special note, all of this was done while the trucks worked 24/7 in real mining operations, all without one time-lost incident due to crashes or errors.

Caterpillar Drones LiDAR
Caterpillar’s autonomous vehicles use LiDAR to build situational awareness. Source: Caterpillar

Digger operators can virtually control multiple vehicles to streamline mining

CAT has developed an impressive software interface system — enabling workers to closely monitor and even control the autonomous trucks as needed.

Caterpillar Situational Awareness
Caterpillar’s autonomous vehicles can project possible accidents, and stop of their own initiative to avoid damage or losses of life. Source: Caterpillar

One real-world example demonstrated an autonomous loader used in conjunction with a manned-digger. In this scenario, the digger operator is able to select where they need the loader to park for loading all through a simple onboard interface fitted with CAT’s Terrain software system.

Remote Drone Control
Switching operational shifts is as easy as one person leaving the seat, and another taking their place. Source: Caterpillar

Erstwhile impossible maneuvers now streamlined to minimize mechanical stress

Since the vehicles operate autonomously, they can perform operations that manned users can’t normally do. Caterpillar proposed the activity of lowering a loader’s bed while moving forward. Typically, this isn’t a recommended maneuver for manned vehicles because it can overload the vehicle and cause accidents.

Autonomous Control
Autonomous control can manage the stresses on machines, creating new pathways of movement with on-the-fly calculations. Source: Caterpillar

However, since the vehicle is connected and autonomous, all of the stresses on the machines are perfectly controlled and within operating conditions.

Caterpillar’s latest autonomous truck software, MineStar Edge

For the world of big trucks on large worksites, the future certainly appears to be autonomous, courtesy of Caterpillar’s impressive real-world data.

The company’s latest software offering, MineStar Edge, gives operators the ability to process real-time project data in the cloud, furthering the aims of all financial partners with autonomous machinery.

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