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Autonomous Solutions will be at the 2016 MINExpo in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, .

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Despite polarizing arguments, manned and unmanned vehicles both hold significant benefits for the mining industry. Miners should look at identifying what mix of human labor and automation is right for their operation.

While studying up on automation in mining, one will generally run across two perspectives. The first perspective is that of automation supporters touting it as 'the' new disruptive technology that will solve nearly all mine safety issue while simultaneously creating dramatic improvements in productivity. The other perspective is that of human labor supporters raising warning flags that automation will eliminate most human-based jobs, leaving a working class unemployed and communities trampled and destitute while corporations line their pockets with profits.

With strong polarizing influencing tugging on this issue, what is the actual position that automation will eventually take? According to Accenture's Nigel Court, the most realistic place is likely somewhere in the middle. "Automation is now being looked at not as a panacea to fix productivity and efficiency on site, rather people are focusing on how it can be applied to solve specific problems encountered on site," Court told Australian Mining's Cole Latimer in his article A Revolution Revolt? The Next Stage of Mining Automation. Court went on to explain that one of Accenture's clients was considering full site automation, but after evaluation "they've come to realize that a combination of both manned and unmanned [is needed] to gain top performance."

Why might a mixed solution be the best?

general and specific intelligence working together

Humans are well equipped for more complex cognitive skills such as adaptation, critical thinking, and creativity. Where mining jobs require troubleshooting and problem solving, creating solutions and making decisions based on data analysis, and adapting solutions to a variety of variables, human labor far outshines machination.

Conversely, humans are not especially good at dull or repetitive tasks (we get bored or tired resulting in a loss of precision), and we generally like to avoid jobs that are dirty and dangerous. By design, machines/robots are much more accurate than humans, making them better suited for repetitive tasks that require precision over long periods of time. In dirty and dangerous tasks, safety would dictate that substituting human labor for machine labor is the best option.

Automated vehicles may provide the dramatic improvements in efficiency and productivity that today's miners are seeking, but that's not to say that automation is always the best solution. Humans deal very well with anomalies where machines may have trouble. For example, Court described a situation where automation technologies, many still in the testing/proving stages, may actually detract from efficiency:

"A rollercoaster ride" might be the only way to describe 2015 in the mining industry—minus the fun and thrill. Fueled by an economic slowdown in China and a collapse in commodity prices, mining companies globally have been feeling the pain and are turning to drastic measures as they try to cope.

In what reports say is China's largest layoff in recent history, the Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group Co. announced in late September that it would lay off approximately 40% of its workforce, a staggering 100,000 workers, in order to "stop the bleeding." Anglo American announced in early December it would release 85,000 workers over the next few years in a restructure that would shed 60% of assets.

general and specific intelligence working togetherCommodities price graphs were pulled from NASDAQ on Dec 12th, 2015. Y axis is adjusted to each commodity's price; They are not relative to each other.

With most miners reeling in a similar manner it might come as a surprise that one research group recommends mining companies begin now to invest in future growth. "The switch to growth is looming and assets are now still relatively cheap and ripe for opportunistic acquisition," states EY's Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals 2015-2016 report.
"Given the long lead time to develop new supply, decisions to invest for future growth have to be made now or long-term returns will be lowered."

"It is the paradox that long-term reinvestment and growth is essential for the sustainability of the sector and yet public capital markets are still demanding the opposite," the report continued. "Switch to Growth" made the No. 1 spot in EY’s 2015-2016 risk rankings.

Drastic short-term measures, such as cost cutting and layoffs, can only do so much before long-term solutions must be addressed. "Having reached a ceiling on cost reduction, mining companies have since made substantial progress with their productivity initiatives and working capital solutions," EY's report reads. "We believe that real productivity gains will only come from an end-to-end transformation." EY places "Productivity Improvement" in the No. 2 spot of their 2015-2016 risk rankings.

Moving up 26 spots from 2014, Logan, Utah, placed ninth overall in the Milken Institute's Best-Performing Cities index for 2015. Excellent job growth and a collection of diverse technology companies contributed to Logan's significant leap in the small city division, the study said.

Key to Logan's performance is an abundance of cutting-edge technology firms like Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI). Located a scenic twenty minutes from downtown Logan, ASI develops, tests, and deploys robotic vehicle hardware and software for a number of industries ranging from mining to industrial cleaning.

"Job growth [in the Logan metro area] outperformed the national average and ranked in the upper echelon in both the one-year and five-year periods ending in 2014," the study read. Sparked by an increased global focus on automation and productivity, particularly in the mining industry, ASI's growth mirrors Logan's trend having grown from 28 employees in 2011 to nearly 120 employees today.

"Technology readiness and customer demand are finally converging for what looks to be an exponential adoption curve," said ASI's President and CEO, Mel Torrie, in a press release announcing ASI's spot on this year's Inc. 5000 list. ASI was awarded the No. 19 spot in the engineering category and No. 1716 overall.
"We've seen more demand in the last 18 months than we've seen in the previous 15 years."

"We know we operate in a very positive environment in the Logan area," said Jared Pratt, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at ASI. "Along with developing technology at a high level, we also go above and beyond to effectively support the local families of our employees and give back to the community. We take a lot of pride in who we are and what we do here at ASI, and that's only going to lead to continued growth for our company and the community."

Related topics: Articles
An ASI Automated Ford Explorer

ASI was recently in news of The Herald Journal, a Logan, Utah daily newspaper.

Reporters from the Herald Journal visited our headquarters in Petersboro, Utah to speak with ASI, tour our facilities and see some of the latest and greatest that’s going on around here. They talk about our recent growth, award, and ASI in general.

Read their article to get a local perspective on who ASI is.

Photo: Eli Lucero / Herald Journal

ASI Steering Robot on a Ford F-150

ASI’s Automation Kit will be featured on cable TV’s popluar show Translogic. The episode will air on Velocity some date in the near future, click the link below to see the clip now.

Translogic producer, Jonathan Buckley, takes a ride in a Ford truck that has no driver. Instead, it is equipped with one of ASI’s automation robots.

Ford uses ASI’s driverless solutions on vehicles at their Michigan proving ground on tracks designed to put vehicles through the toughest of tests. These tests can be abusive on human drivers and there are limits to how long a driver can operate a vehicle on these types of tracks. So using these automation kits for Ford provides safe, accurate, and repeatable results.

See ASI’s Automation Kit in action at the Ford Proving Grounds.

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The most recent building and track upgrades not only provide additional space and functionality for ASI's growing needs, but also reflect the innovative and hi-tech nature of work that happens at ASI.

Just before the first November snowfall, construction crews completed the final touches on improvements to ASI's 100 acre facility in northern Utah. The improvements came as ASI is poised to complete their most successful year to date and are designed to improve capacity for a growing employee base and enhance the capabilities of ASI's testing division.

Indoor Improvements

Due to growing employee needs, ASI found it necessary to expand internally. The expansion included an additional 1700 sq. ft. of office space and conference rooms as well as an advanced command station that provides greatly improved visibility of all outdoor testing tracks and facilities. In addition to the space improvements, IT staff installed fiber connections calculated to improve communication speed and bandwidth.

Outdoor Improvements

Historically, ASI performed autonomous vehicle tests on a single paved track and two unpaved tracks. However, as testing needs increased in 2014, more space became essential. The recent completion of two paved tracks and one unpaved track adds more than 150,000 sq. ft. of testing area. The new tracks will meet the needs of a testing division that recently ramped up to 24 hour continuous testing.

In addition to meeting growing needs, the new updates reflect the hi-tech nature of the work being accomplished by ASI's world-class engineering staff. ASI continues to lead out in the vehicle automation industry and services partners and clients all over the world in the mining, farming, automotive, and government industries. ASI looks forward to an even more successful 2015.

ASI started with John Deere in 2000
ASI began in 2000 developing early precision agriculture technology with John Deere. Over the next 14 years, ASI maintained a strong pedigree of partnerships with large OEMs and end users.

In The ASI Advantage, Part 1, we considered the first source of competition Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) faces, original vehicle manufacturers (OEMs). We discussed that while OEMs may appear to have an attractive automation solution, end users may find the solution's customizations are limited or find themselves locked into exclusive contracts that reduce their flexibility.

Whether providing more customization and flexibility or enhanced safety, ASI delivers an unmatched competitive advantage to our partners.

Depending on the robotic vehicle you're looking for, it may be more advantageous to seek out a third party to partner with.

In Part II, we'll discuss our second source of competition: vehicle robotics companies.

While the unmanned aerial vehicle industry is heavily saturated, the unmanned ground vehicle community is relatively small, populated mainly by research university breakoffs and a handful of established robotics companies like ASI. The technology that robotics companies use to automate vehicles is still evolving but the basic building blocks are fairly similar. End users and OEMs looking for the right partner may need to dig a little deeper than the technology to find the critical differentiators between the standouts in this community.

The following are some of the characteristics that make ASI stand out above our competition as a world leader in the industry:

ASI's automation technology is OEM agnostic
ASI's automation technology is OEM agnostic, making it very attractive to mining and farming operations with fleets made up of several different vehicle makes and models.

By nature, many business-to-business interactions require extensive due diligence before companies commit to a large scale purchase. We typically interact with our customers across a sales cycle of 3-12 months. During this due diligence phase, one of the topics that often comes up is: How does ASI stack up to other vehicle automation solutions in the industry?

Our hope is that the following two articles, The ASI Advantage, Part I & II, will help answer this important question.

We generally see competition from two sources: OEMs and mid-sized robotics companies.

First up are original equipment manufacturers (OEM) that offer their own automation solution. OEMs specialize in manufacturing and economies of scale.

Once a new product or feature is proven and engineered for assembly on the production floor, OEMs add it to their product offering. The drawback is that this process takes so long that OEMs may be limited on the automation solutions they provide.

For example, we recently had a discussion with an OEM that has a competing automation solution for one vehicle model, but they wanted to explore using our products to supply automation solutions for their other vehicle lines.

For example, we recently had a discussion with an OEM that has a competing automation solution for one vehicle model, but they wanted to explore using our products to supply automation solutions for their other vehicle lines.

In recent field trials at ASI's corporate testing facility in Petersboro, Utah, autonomous dozers took to the mountainside, performing robotic area clearance and slot dozing patterns.

Over the past few weeks, ASI's mining team entered the testing phase for a robotic dozer project. The team executed a slot dozing and area clearance demonstration at ASI's headquarters near Mendon, UT. Despite some early Spring weather setbacks, the mining team has been pleased with the results.

The technology used to convert this dozer from manual to robotic control is similar to what ASI used to automate more than 70 different vehicle types including mining vehicles, farming equipment, consumer vehicles, and even ATVs. The "kit" consists of NAV™ (the onboard computer and communications system), Vantage® (obstacle detection and avoidance features), and Mobius™ (command and control software).

Together, these components form a universal automation solution for vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and applications.

Due to its dedication to miner safety and the productivity implications of automation, the mining industry is one of the most progressive markets in deploying robotic technology. ASI has implemented robotics on a variety of mining platforms including dozers, excavators, rigid haul trucks, articulated dump trucks, and drills.

The video shows the robotic dozer testing in action (look close, there's no driver!).

For more information, fill out the form at the bottom of this page or contact an ASI representative.