Driverless cars are slowly becoming a reality on our streets, but at mining sites, driverless trucks have already become old news. Mining giant Rio Tinto rolled out its fleet of huge driverless trucks to transport iron ore and other material around its Pilbara sites in Australia.

Image: Rio Tinto.

These 7 meter high trucks (23 feet) can run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they’re Rio Tinto’s way of increasing efficiency. However, they’re not completely eliminating the human factors: workers at the base station in Perth still monitor the trucks, but this reduces the need for high-risk jobs where employees face rough conditions, working in extreme heat, under pressure.

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According to a report in the Financial Times, Rio is already seeing the benefits of this approach, which saves the need for up to 500 working hours per year. The driverless trucks are also more efficient. Andrew Harding, the company’s iron ore chief executive, said:

“Our autonomous fleet outperforms the manned fleet by an average of 12 percent, primarily by eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.”

Rio Tinto isn’t the only company to test this technology – rivals BHP Billiton and Fortescue have also been testing it out, but Rio’s fleet seems to be the most advanced – and it’s the only one that’s functional now. There are 69 vehicles in total which make up a fifth of its total fleet.