The autonomous mining experts at SafeAI have collaborated with Japanese Obayashi Corp. to build a first-of-its-kind, self-driving battery electric haul truck, paving the way for other companies to upgrade their existing equipment assets to reach their sustainability goals.
It’s important to note here that this really might be a “first-of-its-kind” conversion. While autonomous drive and electrification upfits have been implemented independently, the companies claim that is the first time an articulated haul truck has been successfully retrofitted with both technologies.
Obayashi sacrificed one of its Caterpillar 725 articulated haul trucks to the project, which was converted to electric drive and fitted with SafeAI’s latest autonomous technology. The program hopes to encourage fleet managers to consider retrofitting the assets they already own for electric operation instead of sending them off to a scrap yard. And they can do so, the companies claim, in a way that’s more affordable and environmentally friendly than buying new electric equipment.
Lowering the initial cost barrier to electrification is just one of the project’s goals, however. SafeAI and Obayashi are also looking at ways to reduce the fleet’s cost of operation – and, according to SafeAI, “marrying” automation and electrification creates compounded advantages that are otherwise hard to achieve as independent technologies.
One example cited by SafeAI was improved employee safety, since the autonomous component removes employees from potentially dangerous environments by removing the need to operate or refuel the haul trucks.
SafeAI’s autonomous electric Caterpillar 725 haul truck
“Just as our autonomous solution is designed to be open and interoperable to be applied to any make or model vehicle, we want our solution also to be powered by any energy source. This project is a step in that direction as it showcases how our autonomous ground vehicle stack is EV-compatible,” said Bibhrajit Halder, Founder and CEO of SafeAI. “I am proud of our latest endeavor of retrofitting a Caterpillar 725, marking the world’s first haul truck retrofitted with autonomous and electrification technology.”
Caterpillar brought a ton (literally) of EV charging products to the CES show in Las Vegas earlier this month, and seems committed to developing a full line of electric solutions for future job sites – but the carbon costs of scrapping potentially millions of otherwise serviceable heavy equipment and ag assets can’t simply be ignored. Whether or not it’s better to simply “buy new” when an EV becomes available or to find ways to improve those vehicles’ emissions through conversion to biodiesel, the use of blended CNG or hydrogen combustion, or to convert them to electric using something like SafeAI’s retrofit package shown here is a bit above my pay grade.
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