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Caterpillar shows off autonomous machines

GREEN VALLEY, ARIZ. – House-sized mining trucks lined up one after another, backing into position as massive shovel loads of earth dropped into the back.

Operating unmanned, the trucks carried the loads to the top of a berm, backed to within a few feet of a steep drop off and dumped the loads over – all while a remotely operated dozer leveled earthen piles and manned vehicles moved throughout the replica mine site.

The demonstration at the Tinaja Hills Training Center outside Tucson, Arizona, on Monday showed the precision and interoperability of manned and autonomous mining machinery made by Caterpillar Inc.

Dozens of analysts and investors turned out for the event, 1 day ahead of an investor conference in Tucson where CEO Jim Umpleby and other executives will outline a strategic plan for the future of the business.

“Part of Caterpillar has always been about being a technology leader,” said Amy Campbell, director of investor relations. “The autonomous demonstration clearly shows our leadership in technology – where we’ve been and where we continue to focus.”

Caterpillar continues to develop new autonomous lines of mining machinery, but also is focusing on retrofitting existing fleets of Cat and competitor equipment, bringing the mixed fleets of mining customers under the control of one autonomous system.

John Deselem, one of the operators running the demonstration Monday, said autonomy makes the most sense for trucks because they perform the same functions over and over again. Automating the actions increases the efficiency and the safety of the operation.

“Trucks are super repetitive,” Deselem said. “You want to automate things that are repetitive.”

The company announced the retrofit program about a year ago, with the idea of helping struggling mining operations maximize the efficiency of existing fleets.

“We’re starting to roll that out and make it available for our customers,” Campbell said. “We’re focused on how to help our customers succeed.”

Autonomy and technology leadership will be part of the strategy outlined Tuesday for the mining segment of Caterpillar’s business, Campbell added.

Other segments of the company also will provide financial updates and detail how new enterprise strategies will be implemented.

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.


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