Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese and Komatsu Ltd. President and CEO Kunio Noji signed a memorandum of understanding in Tokyo in early November 2011 for the purchase by Rio Tinto of at least 150 Komatsu driverless trucks over the next four years. The trucks will start arriving at Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia in 2012 and can be controlled from its Operations Center in Perth, more than 1,500 km away.

Rio Tinto has been testing the Komatsu Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) in the Pilbara since December 2008. The new agreement represents a major commitment by Rio Tinto to the technology. The company’s previous planning had called for a doubling of its current driverless-truck fleet to 10.

The Komatsu AHS trucks are variations of its 930E electric-wheel drive truck, which in standard configuration weighs 210 metric tons and has a payload of 320 mt. The truck is powered by a 60-liter V16 turbo diesel engine producing 1,900 kW of power.

The truck acquisition plan is the latest development in Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future program, which is developing “next-generation technologies” for mining operations, with the aim of reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and improving health, safety and environmental performance. Elsewhere in the program, Rio Tinto is planning to begin more widespread deployment of its automated drills, both in the Pilbara and at coal and copper mines.

“This announcement further reinforces our longstanding alliance with Komatsu,” Albanese said. “We have been partnering with Komatsu, using their advanced truck technology at our mines, for almost 20 years. Autonomous haulage is an important component in our Mine of the Future program. These 150 new trucks will work with our pioneering Operations Center that integrates and manages the logistics of 14 mines, three ports and two railways. These technologies are revolutionizing the way large-scale mining is done, creating attractive hi-tech jobs, and helping us improve safety and environmental performance and reduce carbon emissions.”

Noji said, “Komatsu is extremely excited to sign the MoU with Rio Tinto to expand the fleet to at least 150 Komatsu AHS trucks in their Western Australian Pilbara operations by the end of 2015. We are confident that our leading-edge AHS technology will accelerate Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future objectives through improving safety and mine operations.”