Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

by Tom Simonite

Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

“In the last couple of years we can just do so much more in terms of the sophistication of automation,” says Herman Herman, director of the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. The center helped Caterpillar develop its autonomous haul truck. Mining company Fortescue Metals Group is putting them to work in its own iron ore mines. Herman says the technology can be deployed sooner for mining than other applications, such as transportation on public roads. “It’s easier to deploy because these environments are already highly regulated,” he says.

Rio Tinto uses driverless trucks provided by Japan’s Komatsu. They find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors.

Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says.

Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.

The driverless locomotives, due to be tested extensively next year and fully deployed by 2018, are expected to bring similar benefits. Atkinson also anticipates savings on train maintenance, because software can be more predictable and gentle than any human in how it uses brakes and other controls. Diggers and bulldozers could be next to be automated.

Herman at CMU expects all large mining companies to widen their use of automation in the coming years as robotics continues to improve. The recent, sizeable investments by auto and tech companies in driverless cars will help accelerate improvements in the price and performance of the sensors, software, and other technologies needed.

Herman says many mining companies are well placed to expand automation rapidly, because they have already invested in centralized control systems that use software to coördinate and monitor their equipment. Rio Tinto, for example, gave the job of overseeing its autonomous trucks to staff at the company’s control center in Perth, 750 miles to the south. The center already plans train movements and in the future will shift from sending orders to people to directing driverless locomotives.

Atkinson of Rio Tinto acknowledges that just like earlier technologies that boosted efficiency, those changes will tend to reduce staffing levels, even if some new jobs are created servicing and managing autonomous machines. “It’s something that we’ve got to carefully manage, but it’s a reality of modern day life,” he says. “We will remain a very significant employer.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603170/mining-24-hours-a-day-with-robots/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

This unlucky fish was swallowed by a roaming jellyfish in waters off Byron Bay, Australia. The shot was captured by ocean photographer Tim Samuel, who says the fish was still alive and fighting to escape. ‘It was able to propel the jellyfish forward and controlled its movement to an extent. The jellyfish threw it off balance, though, and they would wobble around, and sometimes get stuck doing circles.’ Tim said “It was a tough decision, I definitely thought about setting it free, but in the end decided to just let nature run its course.”

untitledResidents of a rural Australian city are frustrated by a fast-growing tumbleweed called hairy panic that is piling up outside their houses, covering lawns and blocking doors and windows.

Hairy panic is piling up outside several homes in Wangaratta in north-east Victoria – at times reportedly reaching roof height – forcing residents to clear it several times a day. About 20 residences on Bella Way, a new development hard against the fringe of farmland, have been particularly affected, with the grass blowing over from neighbouring fie

But authorities say they have limited powers to do anything about the problem.

Hairy panic – Panicum effusum – is a short-lived perennial native to inland Australia. Outbreaks of the weed take place across the country every year but Wangaratta has been hit particularly badly this year because of dry conditions.

Matt Thewlis‎ posted several images of his home covered in the grass to the council’s Facebook page: “Hope the person who owns the out-of-control paddocks in our area gets notified to do something because this is a joke and the whole estate is sick of it! … ask yourself this would you put up with this everyday?”

Thewlis and other residents who have posted publicly to the council page have been contacted over Facebook for comment.

A council spokesman told Guardian Australia there was not much that could be done “from an enforcement side of things, through local laws,” to control the tumbleweed’s spread, though it was investigating potential controls for next year. “The council has a very limited capacity to intervene, but we are attempting to work with residents and nearby farmers.”

On Friday morning street sweepers would “attempt to clean up the mess”, he said. “We don’t know how effective it’s going to be until we try.”

Though there was often hairy panic in Wangaratta, he said, it had been particularly bad this summer. “It’s widespread. It can happen in any town, at any time, and it does happen in Wangaratta. It just spreads from farm to farm.”

The council had received up to 30 complaints about the grass, though the spokesman clarified that not all were from residents affected by it. “Some people are just ringing to talk to us about it, which is fine.”

The spokesman said hairy panic would go wherever the wind blows, and clarified again that it was not something that the council “can stop from happening”.

Despite concerns raised by Wangaratta residents about the safety of their properties, the Country Fire Authority has advised that the fire risk of the grass is “relatively low”.

If eaten by farm animals in large quantities, it can cause photosensitisation or “yellow big-head”, the blistering of hairless or light-coloured areas. It poses no threat to pets.

fast-growing-tumbleweed-called-hairy-panic-blows-into-australian-city

The antechinus is a small, shrewlike marsupial indigenous to Australia and New Guinea. These animals are best known for their odd practice of having sex until it kills them, but what else does their mating behavior entail?

There are currently 15 known species of antechinus (animals in the Antechinus genus) living in the forests and woodlands of Australia and New Guinea, five of which were discovered since 2012, said Andrew Baker, a mammal ecologist at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia and leader of the group that made the discoveries.

Generally speaking, antechinus are loners that stick to themselves until the breeding season nears.

Antechinus breed during the Australian winter, when their food — small vertebrates and invertebrates — is scarce. This timing ensures their babies will be born in the spring, when food is bountiful.

Interestingly, males stop producing sperm before the mating season begins.

It’s not clear how sexually mature males and females find mates, but Baker suspects scent, and pheromones, are involved. And as with many other species, males likely roam longer and wider in search of sex, he said.

Baker also suspects that male-male fighting is probably common among antechinuses. “They have surging testosterone levels that tend to make them very aggressive,” Baker said.

Antechinus don’t bother wasting time with wooing mates or engaging in courtship rituals. Instead, they prefer to get down to business immediately.

In fact, a male has no issue with resorting to ambush mating, during which he will catch hold of a female from behind and mate with her while grabbing the scruff of her neck with his forepaws and biting her neck.

It’s not uncommon to find females with tufts of fur around the neck area missing, Baker said, adding that females are fine with the rough ambush as long as they have an opportunity to mate with other males afterward.

Both male and female antechinus are promiscuous, and will try to mate with numerous partners throughout the breeding period. However, to increase their chances of fathering offspring, males will mate with females for as long as possible.

Scientists have documented antechinus copulation events lasting for 10, 12 and even 14 hours. “That’s intermittent thrusting between just one male and one female,” Baker said. When not thrusting, the male will guard the female, keeping her from getting away (and looking for other mates) and other males from getting to her.

Anetchinus will mate continuously for the entire breeding period, which lasts, on average, about two weeks. This activity takes a toll on the male’s body.

The sustained high levels of testosterone stop the production of cortisol from being turned off, allowing males to burn more sugar, Baker said. “It frees them from the need to feed as often, but the downside is that cortisol in sustained levels is poisonous,” he said.

Over time, the males will start to behave erratically, bleed internally, lose fur, develop sores and ulcers that don’t heal, become blind, and develop high parasite loads as their immune system shuts down. “They are like a blank slate for every parasite and disease going around,” Baker said.

It’s rare for a male to survive the breeding period.

Females, on the other hand, may die of exhaustion after weaning their litter, which have multiple paternities. Less than 50 percent of females make it to their second breeding season, and only a very small percentage make it to their third, Baker said.

http://www.livescience.com/51371-animal-sex-antechinus.html