Heavy Industry First to Adopt Driverless Tech

While most automakers have come to accept that fully autonomous marketable passenger cars are some decades away, it’s the area of heavy industry that can see an earlier adoption of the technology.

We’ve seen two examples of this in announcements this week from an autonomous road roller in China to an agreement with the UK’s leading autonomous developer Oxbotica to develop robotic mining equipment. The first is Chinese construction machinery manufacturer XCMG which unveiled the first images of its driverless road roller following successful tests held at the end of May.

The vehicle was jointly developed with the Sichuan Railway Investment Group and Tsinghua University and made its debut along the Panda Expressway, which is currently under construction between Panzhihua, Sichuan Province and Dali, Yunnan Province.

Before the tests, a remote monitoring data center first identified the optimal route and process. Instructions were then transmitted to the on-board control system, enabling the road roller to operate autonomously under complex conditions, with a precision of less than 3cm (1.1-inch). The self-driving road roller is equipped with various safety measures and a real-time monitoring system which can sound warnings, conduct an emergency stop, enter and exit sites automatically and avoid obstacles.

Cui Jisheng, general manager of XCMG road machinery, said: “Enhancing road quality and safety through efficient construction and reduced cost were key priorities in our collaboration to develop an autonomous road roller. Our success here shows great promise for the technology’s industrialization and will accelerate the development of smart transport infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Oxbotica has signed an agreement with Wenco International Mining Systems to develop a world-first Open Autonomy solution for mining. Initial trials are underway, and the companies are recruiting mining partners with appropriate testing grounds.

Its autonomous system hopes to provide customers flexibility and efficiency in robotic mining, allowing them to operate any open standard-based vehicle and integrate it into their existing fleet.

The companies claim this approach will avoid vendor lock-in and offers customers the freedom to choose preferred technologies, independent of their primary industrial systems. It also enables autonomy suppliers, that may be new to mining, to integrate with customers’ existing operations while backed by a proven expert in the industry.

Ozgur Tohumcu, CEO of Oxbotica, said: “Wenco’s industry experience in mining and their vision for Open Autonomy make this partnership extremely valuable for us and provides a great synergy with our own vision of Universal Autonomy – where any vehicle, in any environment, can understand where it is, what’s around it and what it should do next.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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