SYDNEY, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd said it plans to expand its fleet of autonomous trucks operating in Australia's Pilbara iron-ore region, part of a cost-cutting programme across its operations.
Rio said it had signed deals with Komatsu Ltd and Caterpillar Inc to retrofit 48 trucks with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology. This will be the first time the technology has been deployed on Caterpillar trucks, Rio said in a statement.
After completion, due by the end of 2019, more than 130 of Rio's Pilbara fleet of almost 400 trucks would be autonomous.
Last year, on average, each of its autonomous haul trucks operated an additional 1000 hours and at 15 percent lower load and haul unit cost than conventional vehicles, Rio said.
"We are studying future additions to our autonomous fleet in the Pilbara, based on value, to help deliver our share of $5 billion of additional free cash flow for the company by 2021," said Rio Tinto iron ore Chief Executive Chris Salisbury. (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Stephen Coates)