Computers are getting more intelligent, and with artificial intelligence, the advantages are clear of using machines versus people as drivers. The key is just to make it safe and reliable enough. With self-driving vehicles you can basically operate around the clock, to better utilize your investments. You can’t of course cut out all the people from your operations, but machines don’t get tired, they don’t need breaks and they don’t make mistakes due to fatigue or lack of concentration.
Self-driving equipment has been tried in quarries, where they see a big saving on not having to fly in personnel to remote areas, higher utilization of the equipment and much lower labor costs. Instead of having 4.5 mean per vehicle around the clock with time restrictions, you can equip it with self-driving technology. For long haul trucks this has also been tested along with self-driving cars. The technology is not far from being launched at a bigger scale. Then we will have a lot more trucks driving around the clock.
The technology will not be cheap initially, until demand gets really high, but the savings can be big from the get-go. It does require that you can make sure that the equipment will run without breakdowns and that the tires will withstand the constant wear. For the truck tires, you will need to be able to effectively monitor the tire pressure in all the haul tires on the rig and have a procedure for how the trucks can stop for fuel and for tire monitoring. With low tire pressure you will have higher tire wear due to higher rolling resistance. Also the fuel efficiency is negatively impacted. Most of the tire blowouts are due to low tire pressure, so it is a real and quite big issue. This is a reason why you now and then see tire residue on the highways. The trucks don’t notice the tire failure and continue driving.
For big heavy equipment used in mining, you will have big mining tires with extreme conditions and you can easily have tire failures if the tires don’t have continuous maintenance and check for cuts and cracks. This will be one of the challenges for the future, how to make sure that proper maintenance is done and to avoid tire failures.