Suncor to begin using autonomous vehicles over the next 6 years

Suncor will begin using autonomous vehicles at company-operated mines, which could result in layoffs by 2019.

The move will start with driverless haul trucks at its North Steepbank mine

Suncor says it will begin using autonomous haulage system (AHS), or trucks without real drivers over the next six years. (Komatsu)

Suncor will begin using autonomous vehicles at company-operated mines, which could result in layoffs as early as 2019, the Calgary-based energy company said in a release Tuesday.

The move will start with driverless haul trucks at its North Steepbank mine.

About 150 autonomous trucks are expected to be phased into use over the next six years, which the company says will be one of the largest investments in electric autonomous vehicles in the world.

"Following thorough evaluations over the past four years, the company has validated that AHS technology can be used safely, effectively and efficiently in its operating environment," the company said.

"Evaluations have shown that the technology offers many advantages over existing truck and shovel operations, including enhanced safety performance, better operating efficiency and lower operating costs."

The move follows a transition from bucket-wheel to truck and shovel operations in the early 1990s.

"To be the very first company to test these systems and implement them at a commercial scale in our oil sands mining operations speaks to our long history of embracing and implementing game changing technologies, it's simply part of our DNA," said Suncor COO Mark Little.

The trucks will "operate predictably and employ a suite of safety features like prescribed route mapping and obstacle detection systems," the company said.

"Autonomous haulage systems reduce interaction between people and equipment, which decreases incident rates and injury potential," said Little. "Helping us ensure everyone goes home safely at the end of every day."

The company said it will work with the union representing its employees to minimize job losses.