Suncor Tests Autonomous Trucks for Tar Sands/Oil Sands Operations
With Suncor Energy Inc. buying 175 autonomous trucks for its tar sands/oil sands, it may soon be the end of the road for drivers who are currently paid “way north of $100,000 a year” to operate the current generation of 20- to 30-metre-high vehicles.
“Computers drive better and more safely than humans. Unfortunately, there will be jobs lost,” said Barry Kirk, executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence.
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“But the work that Suncor has been doing with a prototype for the last couple years has proven to them that they can save money on fuel. They will save money on maintenance costs because there’s less wear and tear. Also, the huge, mammoth tires will last longer. At $50,000 a pop, that’s very important.”
If Suncor doesn’t shift to automated vehicles, “they will lose money, and obviously some of their competitive edge,” Kirk added. “If they don’t do it, others will.” Over the longer term, he said the specialists who’ve trained to drive today’s monster trucks should “plan on getting a different line of work.”
Steve Kelly, treasurer for Unifor Local 707A in Fort McMurray, questioned Kirk’s assertion that human drivers will be easy to replace.
“I’ve been operating equipment at Suncor for 10 years now, and there’s nothing easy about our job,” he said. “There are ever-changing conditions that we have to constantly try to manoeuvre around — whether it’s rain, snow, icy roads, or just the roads themselves. In the type of mining that we do, the conditions are always changing.”