The future of automation: Watch Sandvik’s self-driving mining loader navigate a glass labyrinth

When Sandvik took its next-generation automated loader for a spin through a literal maze of glass, results shattered expectations. But thankfully nothing else.

The engineers at Sandvik aren’t pulling punches with its newest loaders. A proponent of automation in mining for over 20 years, the company recently celebrated a real milestone by passing the two million hour mark for operations using its underground self-driving loaders.

The latest in Sandvik’s line of autonomous machines celebrates a smaller but no less significant milestone for the company in its own right; it is the first of the company’s mining loaders to feature an auto-load function for bucket filling, meaning that the entire process is now automated from start to finish.

Automation can provide a host of safety benefits and Sandvik’s self-driving underground loaders have resulted in no accidents involving people in over two million operating hours.

“A benefit with autonomous systems is that we can move people from the environment underground that can be hazardous, to safe control rooms above ground, improving safety and productivity for our customers,” said Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology senior systems engineer for automation Jouni Koppanen.

“It’s groundbreaking for the industry that our mining machines now are able to load material, transport and empty it all by themselves.”

Sandvik’s loaders are designed to learn routes by recording a path from the very first pass of a tunnel; the addition of safety sensors ensures loaders will brake should anything cross their path.

Remote operators can see everything via on-board cameras, though the LH514 is designed to work in low-light conditions as well. Operators can also control multiple loaders at the same time, saving time and improving efficiency.

To cement its reputation for accuracy and safety, Sandvik decided to put together an ambitious demonstration of its latest LH514 underground loader’s advanced capabilities by building a large, 1740 square metre glass labyrinth comprised of 589 panes for the vehicle to drive through without breaking anything.

Constructed at the Arctech Helsinki shipyard in Finland, the labyrinth was built to simulate the often-narrow walls of an underground mining tunnel. The 38-tonne LH514 loader utilised its laser-guided pathing system to detect and navigate the 2.8-metre high glass walls while a film crew shot the event for a promo.

Only one breakage occurred; a camera operator who moved a bit too close to a wall touched one of the delicate panels with the front of his filming equipment, bringing several panes crashing down. If anything though, this human error only served to further encapsulate the point Sandvik had set out to prove, as the loader efficiently navigated the walls of glass with ease and without issue.

At the culmination of the test, Sandvik chief executive officer Björn Rosengren then took to the vehicle’s cab and proceeded to smash the labyrinth (for the sake of verisimilitude, naturally) and the glass was recycled.

“We said that we were going to do something different,” said Rosengren, “and what can be more fragile than a glass labyrinth?”

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