BHP Billiton is starting to spruik its credentials as an agent of technological change in the mining industry, saying it is on an 18-month journey to "next-generation mining".
Speaking on a topic traditionally dominated by rival Rio Tinto, BHP's vice-president of mine optimisation, Gavin Yeates, said the company was also throwing its weight behind autonomous technology that takes humans away from front-line mining jobs.
"We are piloting and introducing new technologies in selected assets including integrated remote operating centres, autonomous haulage, autonomous drilling and different ways of evaluating and modelling ore bodies," he told the organisers of the Austmine 2013 conference.
"We're actually at the cusp of moving to what we're calling 'Next Generation Mining'. This is driven on one hand by technology advances in autonomy and sensing. That coincides with a drive for growth in far more complex, deeper, lower-grade ore bodies.
Rio has a fully automated mine pit in the Pilbara and is undertaking a three-year, $US518 million plan to install autonomous trains to work the iron ore district. BHP has been slower to adopt a smaller number of driverless vehicles.