Teck Resources is launching a six-vehicle autonomous haul truck pilot project at its Highland Valley Copper (HVC) operations to understand the technology and whether it can play in role in extending HVC's mine life. 

The company plans to fully integrate the new autonomous Caterpillar trucks into the existing approximately 50-truck fleet by the end of 2018 at HVC, a large, low-grade copper and molybdenum deposit in south-central British Columbia. 

Kalev Ruberg, Teck’s vice president of digital systems and chief information officer, said automation is a natural progression for a mining fleet and he is interested in exploring the issues that arise with respect to cyber-security and the how the workers themselves respond to the new trucks.

According to the company, production at HVC fell to 93,000 tonnes in 2017, from 119,000 tonnes in 2016. A potential extension project known as HVC 2040 is underway to increase the life of the operation to the year 2040 and support jobs and economic activity in the area.

Related: Rio Tinto to expand autonomous truck fleet by 50 per cent by 2019

"HVC 2040 is mining approximately 20 per cent lower grade ore than the current operation, so finding new, more efficient ways of operating is critical to making that project possible," said Teck senior communications specialist Chris Stannell. 

Reserves and resources at HVC are projected to support mining at current planned production rates until 2028 and Teck is also conducting exploration around HVC to find new copper deposits near the historic Bethlehem pits, previously mined in the 1960s and 1970s.

HVC's autonomous haul trucks are one of multiple technology initiatives Teck is advancing at the operation this year. Shovel-mounted sensors, developed by MineSense, that use x-rays to analyze the contents of the shovel bucket are being used to sort waste rock from valuable ore, saving energy and improving productivity.

Despite the surge of technology rolling out at HVC, the size of the labor force is not expected to materially change. "Our current projection, regardless of technologies deployed, is that HVC's overall labour force will be around the same as it is today for many years to come if we are successful in extending the mine life," said Stannell.

Elsewhere, the company began using a new machine learning system for predictive haul truck maintenance at its Fording River steelmaking coal operation in April.