2 mines in Oz now operating with driverless truck fleet


Human being included to provide scale and size.

The first big commercial deployment of driverless car technology is coming not in the streets of Silicon Valley but in the arid and sparsely populated Pilbara region of Australia. That’s where the large mining conglomerate Rio Tinto has rolled out fleets of all-driverless trucks at two iron ore mines…

Rio Tinto tells Jamie Smyth at the Financial Times that the driverless transition has improved performance by 12 percent, mainly by “eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.”

GPS guides the trucks and allows them to deliver iron ore 24/7, 365 days a year, without the kinds of breaks and handover periods that human drivers would need. The GPS navigation system is backstopped by a team of human operators working remotely from Perth, hundreds of miles away. Not only does this reduce the total number of humans who are needed to run the trucking operation, but it eliminates the need to employ those humans in the remote and desolate mining country. A mine needs to be located where the ore is, and you often end up needing to pay a premium to recruit workers to ore-adjacent locations. Remote workers, by contrast, can live in a nice suburb of a midsize city…

As David Roberts has written, one of the biggest technical challenges in making a general-purpose autonomous vehicle is that it would have to deal with all those crazy human beings. If all the cars were autonomous and networked, they would interact and communicate in predictable ways. But for that to happen in a normal transportation context, you would first need a transition phase in which autonomous cars co-exist with human-piloted ones long enough for them to gain trust and traction.

Rio Tinto doesn’t have that problem. It controls the entire site, and can make the transition to an all-autonomous fleet all at once. There’s no “transition period”; there’s just a transition.

Yes, another job description where human beings can and will be automated out of existence. Inevitability should prompt forethought. I’m not so confident about that part.

Global warming’s hurricane cost in U.S. = $14 billion and still growing


Click to enlargeAP/David J Phillip

Climate change has added billions to the toll of hurricane strikes on the U.S., according to a study that challenges the prevailing scientific view that the rising cost is mainly because more buildings, towns and businesses are in the way.

Stronger, more frequent storms may have accounted for as much as $14 billion of hurricane damage in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, according to research published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience. The cost, as much as 12 percent of total U.S. damage that year, is over and above what can be explained by coastal development alone, the scientists said.

“The main message is we have to be more cautious with climate change and reassess our estimates of how much it’s going to cost us,” lead author Francisco Estrada, an economist at National Autonomous University of Mexico, in Mexico City, said in a telephone interview. “The conclusion that there is no climate change signal in extreme events is no longer valid.”

While scientists are virtually unanimous in saying humans are warming the planet, there’s less certainty about the resulting effect on hurricanes. A study published in May said warmer ocean temperatures may decrease the number of tropical storms but make those that do form more powerful. There’s equal debate about how much blame should be tied to climate change for rising storm costs in the U.S., which increased at the rate of $136 million a year over the last century, according to Estrada…

Past studies have concluded that the higher costs are mainly a function of building more homes and businesses along the coast, as well as the rising value of that property, and not due to storms juiced up by global warming.

In the paper, Estrada and two European researchers say previous studies ignored the fact that more development often comes with added protection against hurricanes, from sea walls and stricter building codes to better early-warning systems. Those protections tend to reduce damages and may hide the effect of weather getting stronger, the scientists said…

“If you look at the scientific literature, the consensus is the climate change signal won’t appear in hurricanes until the end of this century,” Estrada said. “What we are saying is that it’s already there.”

Americans always forget – if they ever knew – that science is collected and examined in a wholly conservative manner. Then, re-examined, parsed and re-analyzed. In a wholly conservative manner.

Because our society’s rulers, pundits, priests and politicians are offended by reality – they choose to ignore the truth and the science that assembles truths for examination. They allow for no action confronting potentially negative change to our lives. The rest of us can’t afford such an alternative.