Q&A interview with SafeAI on the current, and future state of autonomy in heavy industry

Q&A interview with SafeAI on the current, and future state of autonomy in heavy industry

Q&A interview with SafeAI on the current, and future state of autonomy in heavy industry

SafeAI is one of the leading new players in autonomous mining, and recently hired mining truck stalwart Sudhanshu Singh, as Senior Vice President (SVP) of Global Operations.

Backed by decades of experience in heavy industry, Singh will oversee SafeAI’s best-in-class operations and customer success team to support the scaling and growth of SafeAI’s business and customers. Prior to joining SafeAI, he was part of Caterpillar mining team, most recently as General Manager of the Mining Center of Excellence in Caterpillar Resource Industries and prior to that for nine years as Global Product Manager for Caterpillar Large Mining Trucks. Paul Moore caught up with him to talk SafeAI’s innovation and potential.

Read the full article in the September issue of International Mining

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Can you outline what SafeAI as a company does, and your role within that?

SafeAI delivers the latest in interoperable autonomous technology to industries like mining and construction, making heavy industry safer, smarter and more productive. The company retrofits heavy equipment, like haulage trucks, with autonomous hardware and AI powered software to enable safe, 24/7 operations. With its retrofit model, SafeAI empowers companies to upgrade existing equipment, regardless of manufacturer or vehicle type, instead of limiting companies to purchasing new, manufacturer-built autonomous vehicles, which is costly and typically more difficult to scale. SafeAI’s unique OEM- and vehicle-agnostic tech allows industry players to convert their existing fleets into self-driving assets. As Senior Vice President of Global Operations, I oversee SafeAI’s operations and customer success team to support the scaling and growth of SafeAI’s business and customers. I am responsible for leading the successful end-to-end deployment of SafeAI technology for its customers worldwide, as well as supporting teams to identify and pursue new opportunities for growth as demand for autonomous heavy equipment continues to grow.

You have vast experience with mining, quarry and construction equipment at companies like Terex, Bucyrus and Caterpillar. What influence did your background have on your decision to join SafeAI?

I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, dating back to my time at Terex Corporation. Prior to joining SafeAI, I was a member of the Caterpillar mining team where I led the global large mining truck business for several years and launched a number of new electric drive, Tier 4 and autonomous trucks. I also played an

instrumental role in the company’s sales and marketing efforts to introduce these new vehicles to the market. With deep experience in the heavy machinery industry, I have seen firsthand that there is an urgent need for OEMagnostic and easy to implement autonomous solutions. Many construction and mining companies want to deploy autonomy because of safety, productivity, sustainability, cost and overall value chain efficiency benefits, but with already existing and often mixed fleets this can be a really daunting and costly task. I was drawn to SafeAI because it addresses this need head on and meets the customer requirement for existing fleets, as well as new fleets of machines by offering retrofit kits that make autonomy possible when it otherwise wouldn’t be.

There is clearly a market demand for the development of automation for smaller mines, smaller trucks, and ancillary machines that a number of companies including the large truck OEMs are now working on - what does SafeAI’s offering bring to the table that is game changing?

One of the things that sets SafeAI apart is its advanced, AI-powered autonomous technology. The company’s engineering team is made up of industry experts across all facets of autonomy – from mining to passenger vehicles. This team has been laser focused on building sophisticated AI algorithms to power the industry’s safest, smartest autonomous ecosystem from day one. From the latest multimodal sensors (LiDAR, radar, camera) to detect surroundings, to perception-based localisation with GNSS, to emerging AI technologies like deep neural networks, SafeAI leverages the most advanced technologies on

the market to bring more effective, efficient and scalable autonomy to heavy industry. The company even launched the world’s first comprehensive, safety-certifiable operating system purpose-built for autonomous heavy equipment in 2021, lowering the technologicaland resource-related barriers to entry for autonomy in heavy industry across the board. Another critical differentiator is SafeAI’s retrofit approach. Some startups in autonomous construction and mining try to boil the ocean, building custom autonomous equipment from the ground up. This approach is costly, inefficient and inherently not scalable. Instead, SafeAI’s retrofit model enables companies to optimise existing fleets, including mixed fleets, instead of limiting them to purchasing new, manufacturer-built autonomous vehicles. By upgrading existing equipment, we’re able to move quickly and scale rapidly, simultaneously ramping up individual projects while advancing autonomy in the industry at large. Our autonomous solutions are also easy to deploy making it attractive to customers with small construction fleets as well as large mining fleets.

From a geographical standpoint, what are the largest markets for deployments for SafeAI? How do you predict these markets will change in the future?

We’re currently focused on a few major markets for heavy industry including Australia, Japan and India. Australia has one of the biggest mining markets in the world. SafeAI has a partnership with MACA, one of the world’s leading diversified contracting groups, and recently announced plans to retrofit 100 of MACA’s vehicles, which will be one of the world’s largest autonomous fleets. In Japan, the construction market is the largest in the world and we have a partnership with Obayashi Corporation, a Japanese-based global leader in construction, where we have successfully retrofitted a Caterpillar 725 for use at a construction site. Most recently, we announced plans to scale our work with Obayashi, in partnership with Siemens. SafeAI and Siemens will retrofit a couple of hundred of Obayashi’s vehicles to be both autonomous and zero-emission – combining two of the biggest trends in heavy industry. Additionally, the Indian construction market and mining market is growing at a fast pace. SafeAI is working closely with customers to bring autonomous construction to India. Both the demand and interest in autonomous vehicles continues to grow across the globe. We can expect to see these markets scale as well as new markets emerge while looking to rapidly accelerate their entry into autonomous heavy equipment as a result of seeing the massive impact the technology has had.

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Can you give some examples of how AI can improve on existing technology such as how trucks respond to obstacles and unexpected situations more efficiently?

SafeAI’s Autonomous Solution is powered by a suite of sensor component hardware (LiDAR, radar, cameras), along with a best in industry onboard compute platform that’s powered by our AI driven autonomous software. This technology allows equipment like haul trucks and bulldozers to safely and independently navigate a project site, complete important functions like load-haul-dump cycles and communicate with other autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles on the worksite. Additionally, our technology is able to detect and decipher between objects, dust particles, and unknown terrain notifying vehicles to stop, work around, or continue forward without human interference. With this technology, heavy industry can experience tremendous benefits immediately – including increased site safety and thousands of additional hours of productivity annually. Projects utilising SafeAI’s industry-leading hardware and software will ultimately be completed 20% faster and at 25% less cost.

Autonomy is just as much about the complexities of whole fleet management as it is retrofitting single units - what work do you still have to do to achieve whole fleet automation?

We are testing an exciting suite of products with our creative and innovative fleet management team. In addition, we are working closely with customers to further enhance this solution to not only address machines in the autonomous fleet, but also help customers with the entire ecosystem onsite site. We will be announcing more details in the near future so stay tuned.

What are your predictions for the future of autonomy, specifically in heavy industry?

Adoption for autonomous heavy equipment is at an inflection point. Companies have seen the tremendous benefits this technology can bring, and they want to capitalise on that. We’ve seen good traction in the last couple years, but we’re about to see autonomy really take off in construction and mining. In terms of industry players, I expect that we’ll start to see some consolidation in the next couple of years. Those with the best technology and, as importantly, the ability to adapt and scale that technology to meet any customer’s needs, are most likely to come out on top.