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The EX3600-7 excavator. Image: Hitachi Construction Machinery

Hitachi Construction Machinery plans to run verification tests to develop remote-controlled autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators.

This will commence at an Australian mine starting July next year.

Some part of the excavation and loading operation will be automated to allow a single remote operator to operate multiple ultra-large hydraulic excavators.

This will eventually realise the ultra-large hydraulic excavators with autonomous operation features.

Hitachi used a remote-controlled unmanned excavator in the reconstruction work at Mount Unzen Fugen-dake volcanic eruption in Japan in 1992.

In 2013, the company advanced the development of technologies for long-distance remote control by remotely operating a hydraulic excavator in its Urahoro test site in Hokkaido from approximately 800 kilometres away.

“Now, we have decided to begin verification tests at an actual mining site to advance the development of autonomous driving for ultra-large hydraulic excavators, reflecting the needs of customers,” Hitachi stated.

The excavators will be equipped with collision avoidance and vehicle stability monitoring systems, and integrated with dump truck autonomous haulage system (AHS).

The remote control system is retrofittable onto the EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators. This will allow mine operators to use their existing equipment while supporting autonomous operation in the future.

“Because the safety and productivity of ultra-large hydraulic excavator operation largely depends on the operator’s skill and experience, building a production system which does not depend on the operator’s skill and reducing the operator’s workload are important issues at mine sites,” Hitachi stated.

Autonomous operation for ultra-large hydraulic excavators can be deployed as a standalone system or as part of fleet management system (FMS), such as the Fleet Control from Hitachi’s subsidiary, Wenco International Mining Systems.

The AHS from Hitachi runs on the Wenco FMS and has an extended range of control of up to 100 vehicles.

Wenco has also continued to advance its development of an excavator payload monitoring system that measures the weight of the material inside the bucket. This feature will be tested as part of the verification tests.

Six of Hitachi’s rigid dump trucks are deployed for 24-hour autonomous hauling at Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine in New South Wales.