Canada's Largest Energy Company Is Replacing 400 Truck Drivers With Self-Driving Trucks

Canada’s largest oil company announced last week that it will be cutting about 400 heavy-equipment operator positions over the next six years as they phase in a new fleet of self-driving trucks. Suncor Energy, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, announced on Wednesday that it plans to deploy over 150 driver-less trucks, leading to job cuts starting as soon as 2019.

"We have about 500 roles that will get eliminated through this and we're going to add about 100. So the net change in our workforce is about 400 positions," COO Mark Little said in an interview Wednesday. Suncor is the first oilsands mining operation to adopt the technology.

At present, Suncor has nine self-driving trucks moving building materials at a job site in Alberta, making it one of the first companies in Canada to use autonomous trucks, according to Reuters.

As CBC reports, the company has been testing the 400-tonne capacity Komatsu trucks for about four years and has nine now. It announced Tuesday it will gradually build a fleet of more than 150 driverless trucks over the next six years, starting with the North Steepbank mine at its Base Camp north of Fort McMurray.

Suncor is testing an autonomous haulage system (AHS), or trucks without real drivers on its Alberta mine site

According to CBC News, each job site will feature its own control center to manage the Komatsu autonomous vehicles, which will be specially programmed for optimum performance in the unique conditions of each job site.

The self-driving trucks can operate 24 hours a day, stopping only for fuel, and their tires even last 40% longer by avoiding the sudden acceleration and abrupt steering caused by human driver error. Because of these statistics, Chief Operating Officer Mark Little believes that the $5 million apiece autonomous vehicles will not only reduce operating costs but increase overall safety at job sites.

To be sure, while the company and shareholders will be delighted by the efficiency improvements, the losers are the company's employees.

“Often, people hear about how productive these autonomous trucks are,” said Steve Kelly, who is currently a truck driver for Suncor.  “If given the same conditions… that these autonomous units are running in, I’m sure we’d be more productive as well,” he said to CBC Radio.

“It’s two different running conditions… and we’re constantly stressing. Give us [truck drivers] the same conditions and give us some opportunities… We can show how productive our workforce can be.”

Predictably, Suncor's plan to test the autonomous truck systems was criticized by the Unifor union local because of job losses. But COO Little says Suncor is working with the union to minimize job impacts by retraining workers whose jobs will disappear.

The company has been preparing for the switch by hiring its truck drivers, including those at its just-opened Fort Hills mine, on a temporary basis, he added. Suncor said the earliest there will be a decrease in heavy equipment operator positions at Base Plant operations is 2019.

He said the autonomous trucks are so efficient — because they operate 24 hours a day and stop only for fuel — the company will need fewer trucks in the future than it employs now.

Little added that the company will replace trucks that have reached the end of their useful life with new Komatsu trucks. He said they cost about $5 million each, not including the obstacle detection systems and computer gear needed for autonomy.

Meanwhile, Tokyo-based Komatsu this week celebrated the 10th anniversary of deployment of its first autonomous truck at a Codelco copper mine in Chile, noting that more than 100 trucks now operate at four Rio Tinto Ltd. iron ore mines in Australia, the mine in Chile and at Suncor. Komatsu also said tires on its autonomous trucks last 40 per cent longer because the trucks avoid sudden acceleration and abrupt steering.

Also confirming that the future of industrial trucking is driverless, last week Rio Tinto announced that its autonomous haul trucks had achieved a milestone of moving a total of one billion tonnes of material without being involved in any injury accidents.

In December, the Australian mining giant announced it would expand its fleet of about 80 trucks to 140 by the end of 2019.  Rio Tinto's trucks are controlled remotely from its operations centre in Perth, about 1,50kms from the mines, but Little said Suncor is initially going to operate the trucks from control rooms at each mine site.


Luc X. Ifer 83_vf_1100_c Mon, 02/05/2018 - 15:07 Permalink

I said it multiple times here on 0hedge, the AI is taking over way, way faster than the plebs realize it, when plebs will wake up it will be too late and that's good, 0,01% of the current humans count is more than enough. Enjoy your circus plebs, be entertained till you'll see the slaugther house doors! Hope you enjoyed your Super Bow(e)l!

In reply to by 83_vf_1100_c

Sudden Debt RAT005 Mon, 02/05/2018 - 17:45 Permalink

Only scratches. So what?


There's plenty of people who are having jobs that will soon be replaced.

How many truck drivers on the road do you hear complain right now?

How many are reschooling or learning another job?

Almost none...

and yet most will be jobless in a few years from now.


this weekend, Albert Hein announced it will turn all their stores cashierless.

Carrefour is studying about the cashierless stores...

hundreds of thousands of jobs will soon go away.

How many are reschooling or preparing for their jobloss?

Almost none.

A lot of low skilled jobs are going away. Deal with it.

Soon a lot of high skilled jobs are also going away. Deal with it.

But also think about it and act now.

When you're standing in line with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people your chances drop to zero for finding another job.

It's not a surprise that this is happening.

People are just amazed that they actually managed to ignore the facts.

It's exactly as how they're ignoring the pension crisis....

In reply to by RAT005

Reichstag Fire Dept. NoDebt Mon, 02/05/2018 - 16:07 Permalink

Really wish I could defend oilpatch truck drivers here BUT as a former oilpatch supervisor I find truck drivers to be outrageously undependable, usually due to what happens on their days off and they are a massive safety hazzard, usually due to their on the job drug use.

Sorry but you brought this on yourselves. You should have tried to add value instead of take it.

In reply to by NoDebt

NNZN Reichstag Fire Dept. Mon, 02/05/2018 - 19:15 Permalink

--- Thanks for your very interesting info, ReichstagFD !!

--- On other level, why is it impossible to find decent drivers for such an easy task??? There is something big and wrong...

--- On other level, to replace massively humans (more than 95% of today's working force) by machines is NOT really an economic problem. Machines will consume, in a very stable, programmable and sustainable way to keep the economic and productive cycle running (without stupid humans) and so their owners fairy way of life.

--- The human waste will not rebel, as they will be too poor and uneducated to have the correct weapons and tactics to fight the robotic sentinels, guided by my skills in algos of AI tactics. It's funny, I can even tell you all this, you all are incapable to foresee and prepare for a future that you just dislike...

In reply to by Reichstag Fire Dept.

Agent P Mon, 02/05/2018 - 14:20 Permalink

"...cost about $5 million each, not including the obstacle detection systems and computer gear needed for autonomy."

So $5 million for a self-driving truck, but the self-driving parts cost extra...

east of eden Mon, 02/05/2018 - 14:21 Permalink

This is an idea whose time has come, at least for the very remote, very difficult locations such as the far northern oil sands. One of my pet peeves about the last debacle in Alberta, was that they were paying the nudges a quarter of a million a year, plus accommodation, plus 24/7/365 food - all you can eat steak and shrimp and food prepared by very expensive foreign born chefs, plus 3 weeks off anywhere in the world for every 12 weeks worked. Nice gig if you can get it.

I feel badly for the truck operators, but, frankly, the costs to extract the oil sands were so out of line, this kind of thing is to be expected.

Savvy east of eden Mon, 02/05/2018 - 14:48 Permalink

That's just silly. all camp jobs are different. The very rare one has decent accommodations and cooks. Mostly they're rat infested atco trailers that have been there for 40 years and the food is passable. You get up a 5 grab a coffee and lunch, work 12 hours then eat dinner and collapse because you're too damn tired to even sit in the lobby on rotten old sofas and watch tv that someone else who is talking to his g/f has the control for and hogging all the wifi. I've been. You work and sleep and that's it.

In reply to by east of eden

east of eden Savvy Mon, 02/05/2018 - 14:55 Permalink

Yeah, for smaller companies, I don't doubt what you are saying, but the big ones, the Suncor's etc, did indeed have HUGE benefits, food bills and associated costs with flying these guys in and out. I know, because I read the articles, saw the camp pictures etc. And the pay. Well, let's just say that the price for a 2500 square foot McMansion, in Fort McMurray, which is basically nothing more than an over-engineered out post. Nice, but, who wants to have to pay 1.5 Million for a house half way to the Arctic Circle. The whole thing was a sham.



In reply to by Savvy

Savvy east of eden Mon, 02/05/2018 - 15:08 Permalink

Makes sense. I'm in BC not Alberta and the camps here are decades old logging camps, not the newly set up oil patch camps when crude went so high. So many young guys left here to go work in the patch, buy the mcmansion, go 100s of thousands into debt for toys, $80k trucks, vacations. They're screwed. And coming back to BC for work. Self driving trucks will never work here. If a driver (whether machine or man) can't put on chains, that truck isn't going anywhere.

In reply to by east of eden