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Canada Transportation AI Technology

Autonomous Dump Trucks Are Coming To Canada's Oil Sands 165

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-teach-the-machines-to-devour-our-planet dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "According to a Bloomberg report, Canadian oil sands giant Suncor, which is "Canada's largest energy company by market value," is currently testing haul trucks that are run by computers. Extracting bitumen from sands requires first digging up an enormous amount of the sand itself, with about two tons of sands required to produce one barrel of oil. Digging up all of that sand is the job of huge excavators, which then offload into gigantic haul trucks that transport sands to extraction plants. Time is money, and in this case being faster means carrying as much sand as possible. Haul trucks can carry hundreds of tons at a time, and are in constant motion, moving back and forth between excavator and extraction plant."
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Autonomous Dump Trucks Are Coming To Canada's Oil Sands

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  • by bob_super (3391281) on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:05PM (#45305901)

    I'm looking forward to the remake of "Christine" with a truck the size of a house in the title role.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:38PM (#45306215)

      Will they run Windows?

      Not without updated drivers.

    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@RABBI ... minus herbivore> on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:54PM (#45306391) Journal

      I'm looking forward to the remake of "Christine" with a truck the size of a house in the title role.

      You can get that even with human operators.

      I worked on a mine that was being established in a very flat and remote part of Australia - not saying where, to protect the guilty. We had a number of Caterpillar 793s (dump trucks with about 2,600hp engines and 350 tonne loaded weight), including two set up as water carts with sprayers and water cannon for consolidating haul roads and dust suppression. Wile we were in construction phase, they were being used for siteworks, and to build the runway we'd eventually fly in and out of.

      One night at about 1am, I had to go out to a water bore pump close to the partly-built airstrip, and saw the two 350 tonne water trucks well away from the runway, bouncing through the bush with their water cannons firing full-power pulses into the scrub. I stopped them and started asking some very pointed questions.

      It turned out they'd seen a rabbit hop across the runway, and being very bored, had decided to try to shoot it with their water cannons. It then became competitive, and they ended up in a sort of tag match with the confused and very damp rabbit....

    • by drgould (24404)

      I'm looking forward to the remake of "Christine" with a truck the size of a house in the title role.

      More like a remake of Killdozer [wikipedia.org].

    • yes, at least they did. the euclids at kemess in canada literally failed to boot, at least once in my personal experience, costing at least a day total downtime, in this specific case as a result of a failed microsoft office upgrade. sometimes the parts do matter - in this case the trucks refused to run because they were unable to offload, and thus reset, the daily logs, after having been shut down for the night. this happened, as far as memory serves, because an automatic microsoft update broke the outda

  • So God ... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bodhammer (559311) on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:13PM (#45305967)
    So God put the sand in the Vaseline?
  • by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:21PM (#45306037) Homepage

    If you drive a vehicle for a living, start training for another job ASAP. This is the tip of the iceberg. I honestly think that in 25 years zero humans will be paid to drive a vehicle.

    • by mythosaz (572040)

      Most people who drive vehicles for a living weren't trained to begin with...

      • That's irrelevant (and not true). Driving jobs are already starting to disappear. People who are currently driving for a living can either train for a skilled job, or accept an unskilled job that will almost certainly be a pay decrease.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Driving jobs are already starting to disappear.

          Depends on where you are, there's a huge demand for driving jobs in Canada still. The problem and the gutting and cutting of driving jobs comes from companies who hire drivers who are trained in fly-by-night schools, or where companies try to cut corners by bringing in unskilled labor from the 3rd world and run them through the fly-by-night causing lovely accidents and said company eventually self destructs from insurance costs.

          I looked into professional driving 5ish years ago, and there are days I wish I'

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      try fifty..

      you could easily argue though that any driving job is a dead end one and eventually hazardous to health so it's enough to argue that one should train for something more - at least some specialized drive case if nothing else.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      If you drive a vehicle for a living, start training for another job ASAP. This is the tip of the iceberg. I honestly think that in 25 years zero humans will be paid to drive a vehicle.

      The problem is, the same goes for every other job. If you can't break into the owner class, and if we don't have some rather extensive economic restructuring, you're screwed.

  • by Harlequin80 (1671040) on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:26PM (#45306095)

    Rio Tinto has used autonomous trucks on some of its Iron Ore mines in the Pilbara region (north west Australia) for a number of years now (trials began in 2008). They also use it in conjunction with driver-less trains to haul the ore to the ports. In about April this year they announced that the driveless trucks had shifted 100 million tonnes of ore#1.

    For those who think it will obsolete humans, I believe they are dead wrong. It will obsolete some skill sets, but not people. It creates other jobs and frees up labour resources for other uses. It is no different to the Scythe. Prior to its invention there was a much higher demand for labour to harvest fields, the scythe allowed the finite resource that is labour to be used somewhere else. If you believe self driving trucks will make people obsolete, what you are actually saying is that driving trucks is all that person is capable of. If that is the case I obviously have a much higher opinion of people than you do.

    1 - http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/rio-s-driverless-trucks-move-100-million-tonnes [miningaustralia.com.au]

    • by couchslug (175151)

      " If you believe self driving trucks will make people obsolete, what you are actually saying is that driving trucks is all that person is capable of. "

      No, and your Asserted Conclusion does not make it so.

      The world is full of capable people. The ideal business has no workers, and tech improvements entail job destruction but do not automatically entail job replacement.

      The large, manned mining trucks replaced smaller trucks which replaced rail. Mechanized mining replaced manual digging and large machi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Harlequin80 (1671040)

        Job destruction through automation implies that it can be done cheaper per unit of production through automation than through using humans. The net effect of this has to be that final cost of a unit of production goes does. This ergo results in more resources available at a lower price reducing the barrier to entry to other tasks that would otherwise be rendered too high a cost.

        A person with $5 to spend has a greater purchasing power if everything is cheaper than if everything is more expensive. If you h

    • by Kohath (38547)

      Some people can't do anything more valuable than driving a truck. They will be rendered unemployable either when the tech for self-driving trucks gets cheap or when the government makes them artificially uncompetitive through minimum wage laws and other laws that raise the cost of employing humans instead of robots.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        value of driving a truck depends entirely how much value you get out of driving a truck.

        this is however the firs time I've seen a claim that someone is unable to do something else valuable, janitor work, massages, construction, plumbing or whatever but would be able to drive a 250 ton truck reliably!

    • by giorgist (1208992)
      Effectively it makes more mines profitable creating jobs. Its the same counterintuitive thing that automation creates jobs, everybody else can go back to hunter gathering.
  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Friday November 01, 2013 @06:38PM (#45306225) Homepage

    If anybody still needs evidence that we're past peak oil, this is it.

    Re-read that summary: two tons of sand have to be hauled away to the processing center just to get a single barrel of oil.

    And remember Deepwater Horizon? The rig that went kablooie in the Gulf? The wellhead was a mile below the surface of the ocean, and the top of the deposits were seven miles below bedrock.

    Long gone are the days when you had to be careful with your pickaxe in Texas lest you set off a gusher. We're now washing two tons of sand per barrel of oil just to feed the habit.

    Oh, sure. There's still lots of oil left in the ground. About half as much as there was at the start of the industrial revolution, in fact. But it's all the nasty low-quality expensive shit that we would have laughed and turned up our noses at in the '70s. But not today.

    Worst of all, we're now consuming oil at a faster rate than ever before in history. The only way we could keep the remaining half of reserves to last another century is if we decreased production by 2% - 3% annually, same as it used to grow. Can you imagine a century's worth of that kind of contraction?

    No?

    Then get ready for price shocks and the crash to end all crashes as we run out of what little is left in mere decades, and not that many.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Harlequin80 (1671040)

      Sorry, but no. I directly service the resources industry and there are way to many startup companies hitting easy to access reserves to say we are about to run out. No it's not the same as it was with pressurised reservoirs at shallow depths but this is exactly the same argument that was used to say that certain areas were mined out 100 years ago. Many of the precious metals mines that operate today operate where previous people thought they had got everything. Simply put they hadn't even come close.

      We

      • You're not understanding what peak oil is. It's not the point where we are about to run out. It is the point of maximum (peak) production. Yes, we may be able to extract oil faster, cheaper, and easier than before (I have my doubts about all three), but we cannot match the volume we used to produce before. For example, US domestic oil production peaked in the 1970s
    • by lgw (121541)

      What happens if we pass "peak oil" and no one notices? If you haven't been keeping track, supply is "not an issue" at current prices, and current oil prices seem unlikely to cause the collapse of society (there is more oil available in sands and shale than perhaps you realize - perhaps more than all the liquid oil there ever was). Perhaps oil usage will peak soon: eventually some other energy storage technology is bound to take over for transportation, but not in a bad way.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      two tons of sand have to be hauled away to the processing center just to get a single barrel of oil.

      2 Tons of oil soaked sand is not that much sand and would fit in the back of my pickup truck.
      2 tons of DRY sand is about 1.5 cubic feet. A 3ft x 3ft x 3ft block sand...smaller if it is soaked in oil.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Not so sure about that. 2 tons of water is about 1.8 cubic meters. Oil floats on water, and therefore is less dense than water. So 2 tons of oil would probably be pretty close to 2 cubic metres. A quick Google gave a density of 790 kg/m3. 1 ton is 907 kg. So 2 tons of oil takes up 2.3 cubic meters.
    • by mythosaz (572040)

      Uh, what?!?

      One barrel of crude oil has a weight of 138.8 kilograms or 306 pounds, assuming we use a kiloton of sand to produce it, I'm still not concerned.

      14%? I'll take it.

    • by FridayBob (619244)
      Yes, and the Koch brothers et al. will stop at nothing to keep the world addicted to fossil fuels for as long as possible: the more scarce it becomes, the more its price goes up and the more they earn. If it's up to them there will always be enough of their toxic products to sell, so it's going to be up to the rest of us to kick this filthy habit before it ruins everything for us.
      • by kwbauer (1677400)

        If you aren't using a computer that has absolutely no plastics then congratulations. Otherwise, thanks for being a hypocrite.

    • by Gothmolly (148874)

      We can only hope.

      Meanwhile, why aren't they building a railway or conveyor system? Trucks are expensive to run, even robot trucks.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Then get ready for price shocks and the crash to end all crashes as we run out of what little is left in mere decades, and not that many.

      Why will that happen? We're already seeing one effect of "peak oil" that precludes that: higher oil prices when adjusted for inflation. For example, current oil prices [inflationdata.com] are roughly 4 times more expensive when adjusted for inflation than they were in the 90s.

    • You know I have a book here about the history of the oil industry that references 'peak oil' was to happen in the early 1900's and every decade or so after that.
    • This is not a reflection of scraping the bottom of the barrel but rather a perfect example of how good we've gotten in the process industry.

      Yes 100 years ago oil was gushing from fountains, but even back then peak oil was just around the corner. Only the lighter sweeter crudes were useful. Oil was distilled in batch stills which took incredible amounts of realestate and energy for very little output. Every year a few more comments of peak oil popped up. Oh my god we need to catalytically crack heavy hydroca

  • two tons is not that much. Assuming metric, sand/gravel is around 2000 kg / cubic meter, or you know, 2 tonnes. So really the above is saying that you require a cubic meter of sand to create a barrel of oil.

    Maybe I would understand this better if it was given to me in library of congresses.

    qd.

    • by bobwalt (2500092)
      Two tons dug up from a giant strip mine produces extremely low grade crude hard to process into gasoline. This is one reason that the main affect the keystone pipeline will have is to increase the cost of heating oil in the Midwest as the source of their heating oil is shipped out for export.. The second would be to increase the profits of the various energy companies, it is unlikely to provide any help to the average consumer and may, indeed, cost them money.
    • by lgw (121541)

      It takes 1.2 x 10^(-7) cubic furlongs of sand to make 4 firkins of oil, so about an 8-9 to 1 reduction.

  • 2 tons of sand for one barrel of oil? With all the processes needed to get the sand and process it that sure doesn't sound like it makes monetary sense to even extract the oil in the first place... can someone help me understand what I'm missing?

    • by c-A-d (77980)

      You're missing that there's money to be made doing it. As long as there are enough profits to be made, there'll be oil extracted from those sands.

    • You're under the mistaken impression that a "ton" is a large unit. When it comes to oil, 2 tons is nothing. 2 tons, as stated above, is about a cubic meter of sand. 2 tons is about a quarter of a cubic meter of steel. 2 tons is...jeez, I can't even think of an example. 2 tons is just insignificant.
      • by femtobyte (710429)

        You're under the mistaken impression that a "barrel" is a large unit. Yeah, it's "only" 2 tons per barrel --- but barrels are generally counted by the billions per year. One barrel gives an SUV gas tank fill-up or two. And you're moving, processing, and dumping the noxious waste from two tons of sludge for just *that*.

        • by kwbauer (1677400)

          Seems like the "noxious waste" is mostly sand. As for dumping it, it will most likely end up back where it came from. Major environmental disaster there.

          • by dryeo (100693)

            That "oil" is actually bitumen, a tar like substance which needs massive amounts of water and energy to extract some useful gasoline. The amount of waste is quite high when it comes to refining tar into just about anything else.
            The Conservatives have really pushed the political correct name of "oil" sands for the tar sands in the hope that people will believe it is oil they're digging up.
            Currently Northern Alberta is successfully competing with China for the worlds most polluted area and it is only going to

    • by couchslug (175151)

      2 tonnes isn't a particularly impressive volume or weight. Humans are used to thinking in terms of what they can lift manually, which means nothing on an industrial scale.

  • in dealing with that male inferiority complex that leads
    to an irresistable urge to drive around in a hummer.

  • Not just driving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Friday November 01, 2013 @07:37PM (#45306837)
    I don't think that people realize the tsunami of change that is coming through automation. Basically if you do something repetitive and with a basic set of rules then your job is probably going bye bye. A list of jobs that comes to mind, almost all assembly line manufacturing, warehouse work, much in the way of machining, much in the way of welding, some construction such as many parts of the road construction business, cleaning, waiters, cooks, security, almost all of agriculture, things like baggage handling, most retail work such as stocking shelves, checkouts, and of course many driving jobs such as trucking, taxi, pizza delivery.

    This all comes down to three simple questions, can it be done better, more reliably, and cheaper?

    Each of these questions will have interesting twists. I suspect that in the above case of the robot trucks that they will occasionally screw up and not want to cross a puddle or some stupidity but that over all costs will drop and consistent productivity will be, on average, much higher. The same with say replacing a cook with a robot; it might not be better than the best cooks but as long as it is better than average, costs less, and the owner doesn't have to worry about it showing up on time then bye bye cooks.

    But again the key is that robots will be so much better at certain things as to make them far more valuable then a simple spreadsheet analysis might indicate. In the case of a robot cook, if it is always preparing food in an extremely consistent way and always there then you might think that it isn't much better than a chef who only misses 2 days a year and only has 2 off days per year. But the reality is that an off day or a long wait due to a missing cook could kill off a few regular customers resulting in a much larger loss than the few nights directly impacted.

    The next impact will be that robots have the ultimate case of OCD. So if you want you could have the robots go out into the field and pick the bugs, one at a time, off your plants. This is simply something that humans won't do as they would lose their minds. The same with things like cooking. A robot could place exactly 23 onions onto a certain dish placed in (artistically designed) exacting locations. A table in the restaurant could be told that their meals will be ready in 6 minutes 3 seconds as the chef has plotted the temperatures of the meat and knows exactly how long each step is going to take.

    A simple example of this sort of variation having an impact can be observed with the medical helicopters that fly over my house. One of the pilots sets the collective wrong and the helicopter is noisy. He also is ponderous about leaving the helipad and flies fairly slowly. The other pilot lifts off and in one nice smooth movement turns, speeds up, retracts the gear, and is off like a flash. The landings are basically the same thing in reverse. I suspect the patient survival rates between the two pilots is very different.
    • by khallow (566160)

      But again the key is that robots will be so much better at certain things as to make them far more valuable then a simple spreadsheet analysis might indicate. In the case of a robot cook, if it is always preparing food in an extremely consistent way and always there then you might think that it isn't much better than a chef who only misses 2 days a year and only has 2 off days per year. But the reality is that an off day or a long wait due to a missing cook could kill off a few regular customers resulting in a much larger loss than the few nights directly impacted.

      It'll be a long time before a robot gets that reliable. And you still have to deal with licensing fees and such.

      The problem with all this is that labor just isn't that expensive in most of the world while capital and raw materials are. So replacing a lost cost, reliable person with a high capital robotics system is not an improvement.

      Robotics would have a lot less traction if the developed world hadn't driven up the cost of labor so much over the decades.

      • In many ways it is going to be the third world that loses the most due to robots. In that we will have robots do what we are presently having the third world do. Farmers in my area (far from any source of illegals) complain that they can't get people to work the fields. The end result is that lower cost produce that can be grown locally ends up being imported. The same with manufacturing. We don't want to make things far away, we just want them made cheaply. But again as my point shows, a robot has an advan
  • This is an illusion and not actually happening. You see, they haven't built the Keystone XL pipeline (north segment), yet. As long as they don't build that, the dirty Alberta oil sands will stay in the ground. Daryl Hannah told me so. Madison wouldn't lie, would she? (Elle Driver now, that's another story!)

  • welcome our new, autonomously sand hauling overlords [which are driven by a computer]

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