There are 3 forms of mining
1, Strip mining
2, Pit mining
3, Underground mining
Which type of mining you are involved in, will determine what happens regarding autonomous equipment replacing your job over the next 5 years.
There are however strict rules that each states mines department set and enforce when operated on a mine site.
Autonomous equipment must be operated in an exclusion zone without people, as soon as a person enters the zone, then the machines must stop.
Strip Mining Operations
Are sites where the orebody (thing being mined) is in a hill or is on the surface or very close to the surface. These are the big iron ore sites in the North of WA and some of the large coal mines in QLD.
This is where autonomous trucks can be and are currently being used.
The employers in Iron Ore and Coal are going to be rolling out over 800 (BHP are doing 500 alone) of these trucks on 20 plus sites in the next 5 years, replacing all the truck drivers in the process.
Because strip mines are big open places, they can have the digger (with a person operating it) on one level with the autonomous trucks on the level below in the exclusion zone, which will have its own entrance/exit form the mine.
There will be a separate entrance/exit for equipment that people are operating/driving
This is why autonomous trucks work on strip mines, its easy to create the exclusion zone required.
Pit Mining Operation
Where the orebody is located under the surface and requires a pit with a ramp to be used.
Pits can range from as little as 20m down, to 650m (current depth of the super pit in Kalgoorlie) and have a pit ramp that all equipment uses.
This makes it hard to establish the exclusion zone required for autonomous trucks, with most pits set up to have just one ramp.
To use autonomous trucks, most pits would require a change to the exclusion zone rules, which all mines departments will be/have been reluctant to do.
Underground Mining Operation
Where the orebody is located underground at depth and requires a decline to be used.
In Hardrock mining autonomous loaders (boggers) have been driving themselves around levels since 2006, however still require an operator to fill the bucket with rock. These are the remote bogger operator jobs you see everywhere on seek.
This is where the exclusion zone rules were established, with each loader used on one level, which has to be barricaded off to the main decline, often with physical barrier.
They are creating a mine in Africa to trial autonomous underground trucks.
To do this they are using parallel declines to maintain an exclusion zone, one decline for trucks one for people and other equipment.
To use autonomous trucks on the decline with other traffic, would require a change to the exclusion zone rules.
So the moral to the story
Know what you are getting yourself into, do your research into each area you are looking to get into.
If you are just starting out and want a long career (10 years plus), then you need to be looking for jobs in Pit and Underground mines.
Not the Strip mining operations, where employers are determined to replace the truck drivers over the next 5 years. The head of BHP's Australian operations sent out a email telling everyone (including the truck drivers) that these truck jobs would be replaced within 5 years.
If you want more info about basic requirements for working on the mines then checkout our career checklist page or have a look at our Workready and DIY Intro to Underground Mining packages.