​Rio Tinto and Sydney Uni expand autonomous mining partnership

The University of Sydney and Rio Tinto have announced they will extend their autonomous mining research partnership for five years.

Since 2007 the two groups have been operating the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation (RTCMA) on the university’s campus, focusing on the development and deployment of technologies for fully autonomous and remotely operated mining processes.

This recommitment to the centre will support the next phase of its research into step-change improvements in safety, predictability, precision, and efficiency.

RTCMA director Steve Scheding stated “the range of programs under way at RTCMA crosses areas such as sensing, machine learning, data fusion and systems engineering”.

“The Centre’s work so far has resulted in a number of major research advancements targeted at improving the safety and productivity of autonomous operated mining sites.

“One of our projects has created autonomous mining drill rigs that can bore holes into the ore body efficiently and reliably. This autonomous capability also allows the operator of the rig to be located in a much safer area of the mine site – or indeed anywhere on the planet. This increases the safety of the operator, and also greatly improves drilling precision in operations.”

It will also allow for the continuation of training programs for automation engineers and technicians.

Speaking on the decision Rio Tinto’s head of innovation, John McGagh, said the miner is looking forward to continuing its relationship with the university’s researchers.

“Our technology professionals have worked alongside top notch research minds to achieve our goals,” McGagh said.

“With mining increasingly taking place in remote parts of the world, tomorrow’s mines are likely to rely on remote monitoring and control, with employees running the mines from cities thousands of kilometres away.

“With the input of the best academic minds we are already making this a reality. We remotely manage the automated operation of our iron ore mines in Pilbara region from our Perth based offices,” he said.

“The autonomous haul trucks are a key component in Rio Tinto's strategy of employing next-generation technology to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve health, safety and environmental performance.”

The University of Sydney is not the only university Rio Tinto works with.

The miner has created a professorial chair in geotechnical engineering at the University of NSW, teamed up with the University of Nottingham to create a Centre for Emergent Technologies, and partnered with UWA to boost the supply of graduates to the mining industry

It has also established a Rio Tinto Chair of Australian-Japan Studies.

The new role at the University of Tokyo will be funded by Rio Tinto for an initial three-year period.

The move is a collaborative effort between the Australia-Japan Foundation and the University of Tokyo.

Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh and Australia-Japan Foundation chair Murray McLean signed the Statement of Intent before the two Prime Ministers at a ceremony in Perth.

Walsh said the new position would generate greater cooperation and understanding between the two countries.

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