Industry leaders to teach short course based on real-world autonomous system implementation experience

By Sara King-Abadi

Some of the pioneers of autonomous mining – including two of the very few operations running autonomous fleets at their sites, Imperial Oil and Roy Hill – will share their experiences at the GMG Implementing Autonomous systems short course at SME in Phoenix, Arizona on February 23. Based on the GMG Guideline for the Implementation of Autonomous Systems in Mining, this course will teach those implementing or considering the implementation of autonomous mining systems the ins and outs through the first-hand experiences of the people who are shaping the present and future of these systems.

Roy Hill began implementing autonomous systems in 2018. The gigantic pink driverless trucks at Roy Hill’s iron ore mine in Western Australia are a beacon of autonomous mining. Their autonomous mining journey has continued steadily since then, including this week’s announcement about their latest project to automate their mixed fleet. Patrick Collis, Roy Hill’s Manager of Operational Readiness, Mining Automation, will be sharing lessons on change management from the years-long implementation of the autonomous fleets in their operations.

Mansoor J. Hussain is Project Manager, Autonomous Haul Systems for Imperial Oil, where he works to deploy autonomous truck technology at Imperial’s Kearl Oil Sands Mine north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. He will present on developing the business case for autonomous mining.

Imperial Oil has had autonomous trucks in service since 2017, and, as of November 2019, have 9 trucks in service performing on-site work — like offloading and dumping ore into the crusher. According to their recent investor’s report, the ultimate goal of Imperial Oil’s ongoing pilot project using autonomous haul trucks is to convert the fleet to autonomous, thereby improving safety and profitability. They plan on ramping up to 20 trucks in the coming years and upgrading to a new mine operating system to support an autonomous fleet. The hope is for Kearl to be the “safest, most reliable, profitable oil sands operation in the business.”

By coming together and sharing experiential knowledge, the industry can get a leg up on the future of autonomous innovations and grow as a whole. “[The course is] the ability to gain knowledge, to discuss issues, to have creative conversations and challenge norms,” said Allan Boddy, Consultant, SME for Surface Mining Operational Technologies with Peck Tech, who will be presenting on operational readiness and deployment during the course. “To reduce ‘what we don’t know’ with experience makes us stronger,” Boddy explained. “This is especially important as we are gaining traction in the deployment of autonomous haulage and other operational technologies.”

Why automate?

Safety is one of the main drivers of automation. By using autonomous systems, exposures to potential harm are reduced and safety performance improved. Automation is also more consistent, reducing variability. “These go hand-in-hand with predictability,” explained Boddy. “Meaning if we have good plans and standards and can expect compliance to those, then we can raise the bar on operational excellence.” Productivity increases and cost are also bottom-line benefits.


When it comes to implementing autonomous mining systems, one of the key challenges is change management, and understanding the broad scope of the technology, explained Boddy, who calls change management a “key element” of adoption. “Most operators are weak in this area or overlook the need by failing to recognize how many areas of the operations – people, process, systems – automation touches.”

The community and social impact associated with implementing autonomous systems is also a key challenge. Andrew Scott GMG Vice-Chair Working Groups and Principal Innovator at Symbiotic Innovations will be speaking to this challenge, drawing on over 30 years of experience supporting innovation in the industry. Scott will also be facilitating the course.


Western Australia was a trail-blazing region for autonomous mining. Peter O’Loughlin, Senior Inspector of Mines, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety in Western Australia was part of one of the first regulatory bodies that had to manage the regulatory challenges associated with autonomous systems. He will share invaluable knowledge learned from that experience. Regulations often need to be adapted to suit autonomous mining methods, so engagement should happen early on to avoid inconsistencies with existing rules and allow for the time it takes to make changes. Some changes could look like: exemption from existing regulations, development of entirely new regulations, updating some existing regulations, or a combination of those.

Having industry guidelines also means aligning the industry when it comes to early adoption practices and creating a smoother transition through those regulations. It shows a framework for success for regulators and operators, and makes that success more easily replicated, said Boddy. “Adopting established standards could enable a faster permitting and total deployment timeframe.”

The course takes place 8:30 – 4:30 at SME on February 23. To register, visit the SME website, where it appears in the registration system as Implementing Autonomous Systems, GMG.