Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) is unveiling new products that could potentially revolutionize mining and quarrying. IAI's robotics factory has developed technology for utilizing autonomous vehicles in heavy mechanical equipment used in mining and development work. These autonomous capabilities will substantially reduce the operating costs for engineering tools, simply because human drivers and teams will no longer be needed. The heavy tools can be operated from remote command and control rooms, or according to definitions of software installed in them ahead of time according to the character of the task.
One of the main developments recently reported by IAI is aimed at the global mining industry through a system named Euphemus based on advanced algorithms that makes it possible to convert huge trucks used to transport dirt in open mines into completely autonomously driven trucks. These converted trucks can be operated independently according to definitions made in advance through commands given to them remotely.
Over the past year, IAI has already signed several deals with a number of mining companies around the world, and IAI heads are calling the new applications achieved in robotics one of the company's main growth engines for the coming years. IAI recently revealed its intriguing developments aimed at this sector in the framework of the Expomin exhibition that took place in Santiago, Chile, which was attended by the world's major mining companies, in an attempt to obtain additional deals for IAI in this sector.
The system constitutes a technological solution for autonomous management of heavy equipment used in mines, including bulldozers, drills, and so forth, while cutting the mining companies' operating costs by 30%. "The technology we have developed facilitates conversion of both new and existing vehicles to robot configuration, so that they can be controlled remotely at various levels of automation, as decided by the operator," says IAI deputy general manager of ground robotics systems Meir Shabtai.
Like other major defense companies, IAI has been working on the development of new capabilities for making ordinary vehicles autonomous for many years, while facing constant challenges such as reliability and durability in real time, navigability, and coping with obstacles encountered due to difficult field conditions.
The managers of IAI's robotics division told "Globes" that these capabilities were achieved through artificial intelligence applications, advanced sensors installed on the vehicles, and a camera enabling them to "see" with 360-degree vision and identify the road.
Improved capabilities achieved in recent years led the company to focus its worldwide marketing efforts on an attempt to achieve deals in the mining sector that would yield significant profits. The company believes that the automation market in the global mining sector will amount to no less than $3.3 billion by 2023, reflecting a 7% annual growth rate.
"It could be a good business," Shabtai says. "We're talking about heavy trucks of 200-400 tons, each as tall as a building, with huge tires having four-meter diameters. The job of these trucks is to transport dirt repeatedly from one place to another, but why put a driver in them when they can be piloted by commands delivered from an air-conditioned command and control room? We have managed to turn this monster into an unmanned vehicle, while reducing fuel consumption to a minimum, cutting down on pollution, and improving efficiency in mining work. This enables us to appeal to a growing market."
When IAI senior executives look ahead a few years, they see a dark cloud threatening the company, which has not grown for a long time. The company's next CEO, who will replace outgoing CEO Joseph Weiss in a few months, will have to bring the company's operating profit to 9%, a difficult target at a time when IAI's primarily military regular markets are becoming increasingly concentrated and very competitive. IAI is now attempting to do in its new sector what it did over the past two decades in advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are now being sold throughout the world, earning the company billions of dollars.
Getting the drivers out of military vehicles
In addition to the Euphemus system for the mining industry, IAI is displaying advanced up-to-date capabilities facilitating reliable and effective operation of bulldozers and trucks for transporting cargoes without drivers, mainly for the military market: "Within a span of years, most of the vehicles used by advanced armies will be autonomous, with artificial intelligence capabilities introducing a great change into this sphere. We intend to become a leading player in this area. We know how to do this, and we have accumulated a great deal of know-how and experience," Shabtai declares.
Among IAI's developments for the military market that are likely to remove human teams from vehicles exposed to enemy fire on the battlefield is its Robocon system for making logistic truck convoys autonomous, with one truck following a leading truck without being driven by soldiers.
In addition to this system, IAI has developed the Panda, an unmanned bulldozer for engineering missions; the Sahar, a patrol robot used for missions such as opening a road to motorized and infantry forces, and which is designed to detect ahead of time explosive devices planted on the road; and others. "The market for land-based military robotics that these developments are aimed at is likely to grow 10-20% per annum until 2025, reaching over $1.5 billion," Shabtai predicted to "Globes."
In recent years, the IDF has been expanding the use by its forces of unmanned vehicles in various conflict areas, such as the northern border and the borders with Egypt and the Gaza Strip, particularly in the framework of regular patrol and security missions. IAI VP land systems Major General (res.) Gadi Shamni, who is familiar with the operational needs and challenges facing the IDF on today's battlefield, predicts that the tend towards assimilating unmanned vehicles in the IDF and other advanced armies worldwide will gain momentum. "Robots are able to do many things and enable field commanders to get the most out of their force capabilities, because many missions are too dangerous for soldiers. Sending a company of soldiers to a sensitive target is risky and requires preliminary preparation of rescue forces. Robots can always be sent to such places," he explained.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 29, 2018
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