Make way for more driverless trucks: BHP

In an attempt to boost productivity and cut costs, Australia-based BHP Billiton (ASX: BHP) is expanding the use of the driverless trucks from its Pilbara iron ore mines to New South Wales and Queensland coal mines.

BHP, the world's largest mining company measured by 2013 revenues, has been using the robotic haulage fleet in the Pilbara region since late 2012, following the lead of its rival company Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO).

The expansion to its coal mines comes after successful trials in New Mexico, according to the Australian.

"There’s no doubt it will happen, and I’d like to think that within 12 months we will be running trials,” BHP coal president Dean Dalla Valle told the Australian Monday.

Valle said the autonomous trucks cut costs by reducing the need to house, feed and employ four drivers and there was little difference between hauling coal and iron ore. He also added the coalmines are where it most needs to save money due to depressed thermal and coking coal prices.

The use of autonomous trucks had previously been expanded within the Pilbara region to reduce costs and protect profits against commodity price dips.

The idea of automation is not a new one. A variety of approaches to autonomous underground navigation has been used with varying degrees of success around the world over the years, although all have relied on the installation of some form of additional infrastructure to guide the vehicle.