Australia-based mining major BHP Billiton will commence an autonomous truck trial on a second circuit at its Jimblebar iron ore mine in the middle of the year.

Since August 2013, six autonomous Caterpillar 793F trucks have been hauling ore at the mine, which is 40km east of Newman in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Six new trucks will operate at the neighbouring Wheelarra pits to dump ore into the newly installed crusher, as part of an extended trial.

"Autonomous haul trucks offer safety benefits, including removing people from potentially hazardous environments."

The trials are aimed at testing the process and technology required to safely and efficiently operate autonomous trucks in a production environment and understand the production benefits and safety implications of using them.

The benefits of expanding the use of autonomous haul trucks will be identified based on the outcome of the trials.

In a statement, BHP Billiton said that autonomous haul trucks offer safety benefits, including removing people from potentially hazardous environments, increasing the productivity of haulage operations and reducing the labour requirement in future mining operations.

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The Jimblebar project is jointly funded by BHP and its Japanese partners, Itochu Corporation and Mitsui.

The $3.6bn project is expected to have phase one capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum of iron ore by the end of 2015.

BHP Billiton Iron Ore president Jimmy Wilson said that extensive planning and research went into designing Jimblebar’s mining operation, with productivity measures and technology central to the design plan.

"Mobile crib rooms and fuelling stations have been positioned closer to the mine pits so our trucks and equipment spend more time moving earth and less time travelling or parked out of action," Wilson said.