Mining company Fortescue Metals Group is exploring how it could apply autonomous mobility technology in an urban environment, announcing it plans to establish a new research and development centre in Karratha, Western Australia.

The Fortescue Future of Mobility Centre will leverage the company’s success in using autonomous technology across its mining operations.

Fortescue has been using autonomous vehicles since 2012 and its CEO Elizabeth Gaines said it plans to be the first company in the world to be fully autonomous.

Gaines said its autonomous vehicles have safely travelled over 26 million kilometres since the first autonomous truck was introduced in 2012 and the company will soon commence an autonomous light vehicle trial at its Christmas Creek mine in WA.

She said innovation and emerging technologies, like autonomy, present an opportunity to work closely with the community to bring about mutual benefits.

Gaines explained the emergence of autonomy is one aspect in which the world is changing rapidly and she wants to be a part of the opportunities it will represent for the mining industry and local communities such as Karratha.

Elizabeth Gaines, CEO at Fortescue

She said, “By establishing the Fortescue Future of Mobility Centre in Karratha we will have the ability to develop, test and trial this technology, further contributing to Western Australia’s position as a world leading autonomous hub.

“We’ll be exploring all facets of the future of mobility including software, hardware and various forms of mobility solutions, to see where the opportunities lie.”

Peter Long, City of Karratha mayor said it was exciting to see another innovative new project commence in the City of Karratha.

“While the city will continue to be the hub of resources and energy projects for the nation, we are now entering an exciting new phase of economic development and diversification.

“The city has invested millions of dollars into key infrastructure and amenity upgrades to activate our city centre and provide enhanced facilities and services to our residential and business communities as we strive towards our vision of becoming Australia’s most liveable regional city.

“I am delighted that of all the potential locations around Australia, Fortescue has selected Karratha as its base to develop this exciting and innovative new technology,” Long said.

Dr Fang Chen, executive director data science at The University of Technology Sydney which will be a leading research provider to Fortescue’s work in autonomous technology, said, “Research into new technology and infrastructure will accelerate innovative mobility solutions to accommodate growth and future demands.”

Other mining companies like Rio Tinto have also invested in autonomous vehicles with the mining giant expected to double its vehicles by this year.

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