State mining firm introduces self-driving robot in lieu of heavy truck in Xinjiang

Beginning in September 2021, the local unit of CHN Energy has looked into the option of supplanting miners with smart equipment, to reduce their exposure to the elements and workplace hazards.

CHN Energy (国家能源集团), a state-run energy corporation, has put what it says is China’s first general-purpose unmanned mining robot to use at an open-pit coal mine in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The self-driving robot, named Alpha90, was deployed on November 24 to the Danan Lake No.2 Mine in Hami, a city in Xinjiang, that was being quarried by a local subsidiary of CNH Energy, following half a month of trial operation.

With the facade of a frontless truck, the robot is said to be able to replace heavy-duty truck drivers in carrying out risky and intensive tasks, such as long-haul transportation of cargo within the mine, climbing up a steep slope and other complex logistics scenarios.

The Danan Lake No.2 Mine is located in the Gobi deserts about 84km southwest of Hami, and is an important part of the ±800vK direct current grid that carries locally generated electricity over some 2,450km from Hami to Zhengzhou, capital of northern China’s Henan Province.

The mining area is arid, sandy and receives little precipitation all year round, with ground surface temperatures fluctuating from 69 degrees Celsius in summer to minus 30 degrees in winter.

The inclement climate conditions make trucking a safety priority for mine operators.

Image credit: Unsplash

Beginning in September 2021, the local unit of CHN Energy has looked into the option of supplanting miners with smart equipment, to reduce their exposure to the elements and workplace hazards.

An outgrowth of this effort is the latest mining robot. As the first model of its kind to be applied across a full range of use cases, Alpha90 has done without the driver’s cabin.

Instead, it integrates all the physical components and discards manual control mechanisms.

All the key components now come together within the in-vehicle equipment compartment. Essential car parts such as steering wheel, igniter, gas pedal, gearbox and others have vanished from the mining robot.

In light of rugged roads and dusty environment at the mine, technicians optimized the sensors on the robot to cope with these conditions.

Besides, they also reconfigured it with new human-machine interaction protocol to allow for more smooth communication.

Image credit: Unsplash

The operator of the robot can issue commands to control it partly via a mobile app and switch between modes of operation, such as manual control and autonomous driving.

According to Wang Fei, a manager responsible for the unmanned mining robot project, currently the driverless truck is 92% as efficient as a truck manned by a human driver under the same working conditions.

As long as the structure of the vehicle is holding up and remains intact, it can guide itself for a long period of time without human intervention.

Since 2013, when the Danan Lake No.2 Mine became operational, the mining company behind it has been making steady strides in smart mining.

It has now put in place smart systems to prevent vehicle collision, watch out for speeding, issues alert about fire, offer video surveillance and direct a group of inspection robots.

These technologies closely monitor production procedures taking place within the mine and ensures safety through around-the-clock automated patrol of switch rooms and power substation, media reports said.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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