Suncor’s self-driving trucks

Cat Command software in the driving seat at North Steepbank tar sands mining operations.

You probably see self-driving vehicles as being somewhat futuristic. Not at all. They are here now! working in the oil patch. Oil sands miner Suncor has commenced a phased implementation of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) at its company-operated mines, starting at North Steepbank. Over the next six years, 150 AHS will be deployed. The technology offers many advantages over existing truck and shovel operations, including enhanced safety performance, better operating efficiency and lower operating costs.

Initial deployment is for Caterpillar’s 400 ton capacity 797F, retrofitted for autonomous operations with Cat Command software. A smaller unit, the 793F, used in Australian mining operations for three years, has achieved a 20% productivity advantage over standard trucks. Caterpillar also provides its Command package to other vendors, notably to retrofit Komatsu’s 930E truck.

Suncor COO Mark Little said, ‘Autonomous trucks operate predictably and employ a suite of safety features like prescribed route mapping and obstacle detection systems. AHS decreases incident rates and injury potential.’ Implementation is ‘changing roles and skill sets,’ Suncor is working with its union to ‘minimize workforce impacts.’

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