woman in mining uniform smiling to camera Indigenous artwork background

In the driver seat of driverless technology

Coal Field Officer Mandy-Jo is making her mark at the forefront of autonomous haulage technology with driverless trucks boosting efficiency and safety at Goonyella Riverside Mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin in Barada Barna country.

Mandy-Jo says with each truck fitted with lasers front and back, potential obstacles could be flagged instantly, causing the vehicle to stop automatically.

“We have a lot of processes on the Front Runner system itself, a lot of safety features,” she says.

“I have a program on my computer system in my car where I can actually suspend the truck itself and it will completely stop, it'll put its stairs down and I can physically walk up into the truck.”

Mandy-Jo says they’re able to switch autonomous trucks over to manual using a key when they’re investigating potential operational problems.

The 23-year-old said her tech skills were helpful in her current role.

“I grew up in that age of technology and computer games and playing on your phone all the time,” she said.

“Being able to control these mega machines from just a little light vehicle, I can be a hundred yards away and watch and control what they're doing.

Coming from a long line of coal miners, Mandy said after a stint as a truck driver at Goonyella, she was hooked.

“Getting up in one of those two-story, 250 tonne machines, it's just an experience you're not going to get anywhere else,” she says.

“It's kind of like a rollercoaster ride but at all times and you are in control.”

Mandy-Jo said she was pleased that as her father prepared to transfer to another site, he was able to be there for her first day of go-live as a Field Officer, proudly watching as she released her first autonomous truck.

“It was just a really proud father daughter moment to have my dad there on one of his last days, on my first day,” she says.

Another aspect of her job she particularly enjoys is nightshift, which is quieter and allows her to soak up the atmosphere.

“We have a colour-coded system that allows us to easily identity vehicles,” Mandy-Jo explains. “For instance, heavy vehicles have green flashing light, light vehicles have orange lights and now all the autonomous equipment has blue flashing lights. So, it's almost like Christmas year-round out here.”