Activity 1

Robot trucks do the jobs Australians shun

Australia’s newest mine workers

Take a look at the truck in the picture below and think about these questions:

  • How big do you think this truck is?
  • What kind of work is it used for? What can it do?
  • How many people does it take to drive it?

Read the text and complete the activity

Image from an original BBC Click programme. Click is a BBC television programme covering news and recent developments in the world of consumer technology. 

Here are the answers:

  • This truck is an amazing 7 metres tall, making it one of the biggest trucks in the world.
  • It is used in Australia for mining – it can drill holes, extract copper and iron, and carry heavy loads.
  • Zero! This is a mechatronic truck and it works automatically.

Now, read this article about Australia’s mining trucks and try the activity below.

Modern technology means big change for Australia’s miners

Think of Australia and you probably think of modern cities like Sydney and Melbourne, sunny weather, and the beach!

But Australia is one of the world’s largest countries — and the world’s biggest island. It has a huge interior with thousands of miles of beautiful, uninhabited space.

This huge space is also part of a problem for Australia. These vast areas are full of rich pickings – mainly minerals and metals – but there are few people who want to go and get them.

Mining companies used to rely on a few brave and adventurous workers who would come and live a thousand kilometres from the nearest town. However, now the Four Hope Iron Ore Mine in North-western Australia (which actually is 1,000km from the nearest town!) uses giant robots to do the jobs that people don’t want to do.

Mine workers used to drill holes and operate machinery to crush rocks. They also used to drive the trucks and the trains that transported the iron ore to the coast. Now, automated machines do all the dirty and dangerous work.

The robot trucks are not only useful for the difficult jobs though. They are also very efficient. When the trucks had human drivers, they used to use a lot more fuel and chemicals to extract minerals. Miners also used to dig more holes but the automated trucks are much more precise.

The mining companies used to pay much more in energy bills – saving energy is very important when crushing rocks uses 5% of the world’s energy! This extra efficiency means the companies can make millions of dollars in extra profit.

These machines do not mean there are no human mine workers. People still work in the mining industry, but they are doing different jobs.

Miners and engineers used to fly to the mines and work away from their families for weeks at a time but now they can work from home as remote operators. Employees at the mining companies used to be trained in manual labour but now they are trained in remote control and computer operation.

As well as remote operators, experts in mechatronics also work for the mining companies. Mechanics and maintenance staff also work at the mine to look after the equipment. However, there are only a few of them. There used to be hundreds of people working there.

Australia’s robots, then, may provide an insight into life and work in the future. No matter where the work is, we can live anywhere — near the mines or on the coast — and let the machines do the heavy work.

This article is based on an original BBC News story.

To do

What did you learn about the mechatronic trucks and how they have changed mining? Test yourself with this quiz.