One of the world's largest miners is preparing to unroll a new 'automated' mining process, which is expected to result in robot drilling platforms hauling up iron ore, loading it onto robot trucks, which then deliver it to robot trains that will then carry it to the ports, with minimal human hands involved.
And they're not talking twenty years from now, Rio Tinto wants this 'mine of the future' program to kickstart within two years.
A number of new technologies including autonomous drilling rigs, trucks and trains will be deployed in Rio Tinto's Iron Ore division in Western Australia's Pilbara region over the next two years.And the robot mining technology that works in the harsh Australian outback will presumably pave the way for mining on the Moon and Mars.
The vehicles will be part of a two-year trial of autonomous technology and the company hopes to install robotic gear at other iron ore mines from 2010.
The autonomous vehicles will be controlled from a remote operations centre 1300 kilometres away in Perth, eliminating the need for hands-on operators to control heavy mining equipment.
The operations centre is scheduled for completion in 2009...
The centre's first major task will be to operate a driverless train that will run on a 1200 kilometre track connecting Pilbara mines to ports.
A number of major mining companies are trialling a range of autonomous vehicles and other leading edge technologies, such as radio frequency identification, in order to boost the productivity of mines and processing plants.
Expect NASA, the European Space Agency and Japanese and Chinese space entrepreneurs to be watching these 'autonomous mining' programs very, very closely.
So robots will soon be mining, loading and transporting iron ore. It's only a short step to robots turning that iron ore into the materials they need to build more of their own kind. And another Philip K Dick reality is born.