The mining industry has witnessed a surge in the use of autonomous vehicles to ensure continuation of operations and minimise the risk of coronavirus infection.

Verdict has conducted a poll to assess whether the COVID-19 pandemic will increase investment by miners towards autonomous vehicles.

Analysis of the poll results shows that the investment would increase, as opined by a majority 57% of the respondents.

Miners’ investment towards autonomous vehicles

While 23% of the respondents voted that the investment will not increase and that their existing plans will not change, 20% opined that the investment towards autonomous vehicles may probably increase.

The analysis is based on 228 responses received from the readers of Mining Technology, a Verdict network site, between 10 August 2020 and 08 January 2021.

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Autonomous vehicles in mining amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic at its peak led to the disruption of more than 1,600 mines, according to GlobalData. The close proximity with which workers in mines operate raises concerns over infection and outbreaks.

Although autonomous vehicles are not new to the mining industry, the pandemic has led to increasing interest in the adoption of such vehicles. Autonomous vehicles enable miners to ensure physical distancing and reduce the risk of infection.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to accelerate automation and digitisation of the mining industry, according to Nick Holland, CEO of Gold Fields, who added that in the long-term automation is expected to lead to lower staffing levels at majority of the mines.

Autonomous vehicles not only contribute to reducing the risk of coronavirus infection but can also increase safety at mines, while savings costs. These vehicles can be programmed to perform manual tasks such as moving material from one location to another.

Despite the increase in the use of autonomous technologies, barriers still exist for their implementation, such as deployment challenges in underground mines, and signal strength and connectivity issues, according to GlobalData.