WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- While every transportation company on Earth is racing to build fully autonomous vehicle they’ve all been beaten to market by the world’s first fully autonomous freight train
This week Rio Tinto, who are already operating the world’s largest autonomous dump truck, the 250 ton electric Komatsu AHV, announced they’d achieved another first – a sixty mile test run of the world’s first fully autonomous freight train in the great Australian outback.
The Australian mining company, who along with its biggest competitor BHP Billiton, have both been fully automating the world’s mines, as well as move their supply chains onto the blockchain, announced it’s been running trains in autonomous mode since the beginning of 2017, and that as of July around 20 percent of train runs were being completed autonomously.
The world’s first autonomous train
That said though they also stressed that up until the latest successful pilot, which had no human aboard at all, the trains had all had drivers on board as a failsafe.
“This successful pilot run puts us firmly on track to meet our goal of operating the world’s first fully autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail network,” said Rio Tinto chief executive Chris Salisbury.
While there are already a few prototype autonomous train systems in existence, for example France’s SNCF train, and a few autonomous subways and airport shuttles, like the ones at London’s Heathrow, this is the world’s first fully functional autonomous freight train and the success puts Rio Tinto firmly on track to meet their goal of building a fully autonomous train network in 2018.
Trains, in many ways, make ideal autonomous vehicles because unlike trucks, ships and even aircraft their navigational requirements and the environments they operate in are much simpler, and that makes switching over to a driverless system much more feasible, and now that Rio Tinto has finished its first successful pilot you can expect more companies and industries to follow suit.