In it for the large haul

Researchers at CarnegieMellonUniversity’s Robotics Institute are working with engineers at Caterpillar to develop autonomous large-haul vehicles used in mining operations.

The Robotics Institute will adapt over a decade’s worth of its own research into self-driving vehicles for use with Caterpillar’s two largest haul trucks, each with payload capacities in excess of 240 tons.

This is the first major project resulting from a three-year master agreement for sponsored research signed last year by Carnegie Mellon and Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction, mining and other heavy equipment.

Researchers at the Robotics Institute’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) will work closely with Caterpillar’s PittsburghAutomationCenter, which opened in September 2007.

Tony Stentz, principal investigator and associate director of the NREC, said: ‘We’ve assembled a great team of people from across the institute who are excited to play a major role in delivering this groundbreaking capability.’

Sam Kherat, manager of the Pittsburgh Automation Center, said: ‘This project is one of many allowing researchers and engineers from the National Robotics Engineering Center and Caterpillar to create innovative solutions for differentiated Cat products and services, with increased speed to market.’

The driverless haul truck is part of an autonomous mining haulage system that Caterpillar recently announced it is developing with BHP Billiton.

Plans call for autonomous trucks to be integrated into some BHP Billiton mine sites by 2010. The autonomous technology is designed to provide productivity gains through more consistency in processes.

The Carnegie Mellon team will adapt perception, planning and autonomous software architectures originally developed for the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) UGCV-PerceptOR (UPI) autonomous vehicle programme and the DARPA Urban Challenge robot race.

Caterpillar was a major sponsor of the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Racing team that won the $2m Urban Challenge race in Victorville, California, last November.

Gwenne Henricks, vice-president of Caterpillar’s Electronics and Connected Worksite Division, said: ‘This is a perfect example of how Caterpillar’s long-term relationship with Carnegie Mellon can strengthen our position as the industry’s technical leader.’