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Half year financing of over 700 million yuan! Unmanned convoy driving into the mine, will the mining truck drivers be collectively laid off?.

14 May, 2024

Source: @ Chief Intelligence Officer.

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Today we are going to talk to you about: What stage has China's unmanned mining vehicle industry reached?.

In the book "The Future Roars", a clear assertion is made that "miracles occur when certain independently accelerating technologies merge with other independently accelerating technologies.". In the current era of the roaring future, technological integration is disrupting the business society, and the intelligent transformation of the entire industry is surging, accelerating the empowerment of thousands of industries.

New energy vehicles and artificial intelligence are moving towards each other, becoming the main battlefield for technological integration. Among them, unmanned mining cards are at the absolute forefront of commercialization, carrying the industry expectation of large-scale implementation of unmanned driving technology.

When it comes to unmanned mining cards in China, Yikong Intelligent Driving is undoubtedly a leader in the industry.

In the office of the Beijing headquarters of EasyControl Intelligent Driving, the real-time display on the company's intelligent cloud control platform shows that the unmanned mining truck fleet is operating in an orderly manner in the super large open-pit coal mine in Xinjiang, which is 3000 kilometers away.

In this mine, the company has invested 203 autonomous vehicles, making it the world's largest single mine autonomous fleet, operating 24 hours a day on a regular basis.

Established in 2018, Yikong Zhijia has entered five of the top ten open-pit coal mines in China and has established cooperation with leading mining enterprises such as National Energy Group, TBEA, and Zijin Mining.

Due to rapid commercialization progress, Yikong Intelligent Driving has received investments from Xingfu Capital, Shenwan Innovation Investment, Xinghang Guotou, and Zijin Mining. In March, we received over 300 million yuan in C++round financing, with a total financing amount of over 700 million yuan within six months.

Not long ago, Liao Yan, the head of Yikong Intelligent Driving Capital Market, shared with us the latest practice and thinking of Yikong's large-scale implementation of unmanned driving in mines.

Liao Yan first shared the latest progress in global unmanned mining using keywords such as "safety", "low-carbon", and "reliability". On this basis, the technical strength, market demand, and future planning of EasyControl in unmanned mining scenarios were further shared, and the benchmark significance of EasyControl's large-scale operation of 203 unmanned mining cards in a single mine setting a global record was elaborated.

Focusing on commercial implementation, Yikong has established three core capabilities: autonomous driving algorithm, vehicle line control platform, and refined management and operation, with no accidents in operation for 5 years;.

Yikong has launched the industry's first new energy unmanned driving line control platform "Yushi", which has six major characteristics: evolution, componentization, integration, high safety, high fuel efficiency, and universality;.

The scale of single mines, benchmarking with manned driving, and commercial value are important variables for unmanned mining cards, and overseas will become an important battlefield for unmanned mining cards in China.

At the moment when the commercialization turning point of unmanned mining in China has arrived, Liao Yan stated that it is now a key node for large-scale mass replication.

1. Global unmanned mining has entered the commercialization stage.

From a global market perspective, what is currently the biggest development goal for unmanned mining?.

We believe that the main breakthrough goal of unmanned driving in mines is to surpass manned driving. Only by achieving greater commercial value than manned driving can unmanned driving attract cooperation from mining companies and achieve a truly standardized commercial landing of unmanned driving.

Yikong believes from research and practice that the unmanned mining industry is accelerating its commercialization phase, mainly due to the special demand of mines for transportation solutions, which have several obvious pain points while ensuring overall safety and reliability.

1) Firstly, it is safety production. Safe production poses great management pressure on mining companies and regulatory authorities at all levels, and unmanned transportation solutions are one of the most effective ways to enhance the safe operation capacity of mines.

2) Difficulty in recruitment and employment. Taking Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and other regions as examples, due to the harsh environment of mines, which is very unfriendly to human work and life, many mining companies are facing difficulties in recruiting workers due to health concerns. Combined with the continuously rising personnel costs, the unmanned transformation of these mining companies is imperative.

3) Low carbon, zero carbon. Mining is an active practitioner of implementing the "dual carbon" policy. How to further achieve zero carbon and low-carbon transportation solutions is a business development direction that most mining areas attach great importance to.

4) In addition, we conducted intensive research on a large number of high-altitude mining areas and found that the real high-altitude mining areas (unmanned areas above 5000 meters) all have urgent needs for unmanned transformation. Therefore, for easy to control intelligent driving, being able to continuously deploy unmanned mining card schemes in high-altitude mining areas not only has economic value, but also has extremely strong social value. We must provide a safer, more reliable, and more efficient unmanned mining card solution to meet the continuity requirements of mining operations.

5) The use intensity of mining operation vehicles is very strong. A mining truck may operate for over 300 days per year, working nearly 22 hours a day. At the same time, it also faces extremely harsh working conditions such as high vibration, high dust, rain and snow, extreme cold, and high temperature. This leads to the reliability requirements for the entire unmanned mining card system.

If algorithms and hardware are really used to replace manual labor, then the reliability and attendance rate of hardware are very high, which are urgent problems that the industry needs to solve.

More importantly, in the past two years, policies have been continuously promoting the development of unmanned mining areas.

For example, in April 2023, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region issued a notice on several measures to further strengthen the safety management of open-pit coal mines in the entire region, stating that there should be no more than 29 workers operating within a 300 kilometer radius of the mine; For example, in September 2023, the State Administration of Mining Safety issued a notice on the "Regulations on the Number of Personnel for Single Team Entry into Coal Mines (Mines)", stating that the number of personnel for single team operations in large mines with a production capacity of over 30 million tons cannot exceed 850.

It can be said that the limitation on the number of workers has a direct impact on the unmanned operation of mines.

Under the influence of a series of comprehensive factors, in the mining field, mining companies have made unmanned driving a normalized production tool, rather than just serving as a demo demonstration as before.

We see that a large open-pit coal mine clearly requires in the bidding documents not only the use of mining trucks weighing over 90 tons, but also the use of unmanned driving. This is a very important benchmark event in China's unmanned mining industry.

And some large state-owned mines also require the use of wire controlled mining cards in the bidding documents, which is precisely to prepare for the future use of unmanned driving.

In addition, overseas unmanned mining cards have also gone through many years of commercialization, leading the world in the field of commercialization.

Taking Western Australia as an example, compared to the 1% penetration rate of unmanned mining in China, the penetration rate of unmanned mining in Western Australia is as high as 15%.

For this reason, we have conducted extensive research overseas and found that China's autonomous driving technology, especially in closed scenarios, has led the world. However, there are still a series of problems such as low scale application and operational efficiency not leading manual labor.

But in terms of technical strength and scale operation ability, EasyControl has already led the world.

Last year, we achieved a large-scale operation of 203 single mines, which is of landmark significance.

Prior to this, the world's largest single mine unmanned operation record was 108 units in a mine in Australia. Obviously, the scale of the easily controlled 203 units has far exceeded this volume.

2. Commercial implementation is the only criterion for testing the achievements of autonomous driving.

Commercial implementation is the most important shortcoming in all autonomous driving fields, and Yikong Intelligent Driving has always focused on commercial implementation as its core business, generating good overall commercial profits through a series of layouts.

We have mainly established three core capabilities around commercialization implementation.

1) The first is the autonomous driving algorithm. Only algorithms can preliminarily run the model and make unmanned mining cards run from 0 to 1 in demo form.

2) The second is the vehicle line control platform. At the current stage of the development of autonomous driving, algorithms are certainly very important, but the carrier that carries the algorithms, namely the vehicle itself (especially the wire controlled chassis mentioned earlier), is also very important. After true large-scale application, having a brain alone is far from enough. It is necessary to have very healthy limbs that can match the brain. To this end, EasyControl has launched research and development on wire control technology, enabling the vehicle's wire control platform to better match unmanned driving algorithms and iterate products faster. For the entire vehicle, the ability to iterate on a large scale will become increasingly important.

3) The third is refined management and operation. Even after the arrival of autonomous driving, there must be boundaries to the ability of autonomous driving. How to make vehicles and algorithms play a greater role within the boundary range is an important problem that needs to be solved in refined operation. Only by providing a better overall service system for large-scale autonomous driving fleets can vehicles and algorithms play a greater role and bring economic value.

I think some measurement indicators are very important for this.

Firstly, the easily controllable unmanned transportation solution can now compete with manned driving. EasyControl's operating mileage of over 5 million kilometers is far ahead in the industry; The normalized operation without safety personnel that can be achieved in all mining areas also proves the generalization ability of easily controllable scenarios.

It should be emphasized that we have not had any safety accidents in over 5 years, which is very important.

Next is the operational volume. This is also an important catch-up indicator in the field of commercialization, in addition to leading the world in technology. At present, Yikong has 389 operating vehicles and can surpass the size of international giants by next year.

In addition, EasyControl also has the ability to deploy quickly.

For unmanned mining, many institutional investors are concerned about the replicability and generalization ability of technical scenarios, and EasyControl has gone through many product iterations for this.

At present, EasyControl can complete a scene replication in just over a week, and can achieve fully normalized operation by debugging some vehicles.

A typical example of this is the case of Yi Control operating 203 single mines in a certain open-pit coal mine in Xinjiang.

This mine is the largest open-pit coal mine in Asia, with a production capacity of 40 million tons. The entire mining area has nearly 600 vehicles, with multiple vehicle types and formations, and a very high traffic density. It faces many mixed scenarios of human and unmanned personnel. Its homework scenarios are also very comprehensive, with common winter and summer working conditions in Xinjiang, including extreme scenarios such as heavy load uphill, extreme cold, and high temperature.

During the more than 3 years of operation of this project, Yikong went from the initial few cars, to single and double cars, and then to four cars, from over 40 cars to over 100 cars, and now to over 200 cars, helping the coal mine become the first truly unmanned driving scale and commercial landing project in China.

More importantly, the 203 unmanned mining cards in this project have an annual production capacity of tens of millions of cubic meters, and the operational efficiency is close to that of manual operation, which helps the mine make profits through unmanned driving. This is a very important indicator and the core logic of unmanned driving in the mining area. In the future, we hope to work together with the mining company to make this mine the world's leading single mine unmanned driving benchmark project.

3. Create a one-stop solution for unmanned mining operations.

In terms of the overall framework, if a simple cloud solution is used, the difference between unmanned driving solutions in mining areas is not significant, but the core is not the same. But when the number of vehicles in a single mine reaches dozens, there will be scalability bottlenecks in the cloud platform architecture.

For this reason, Yikong has invested a lot of time, manpower, and material resources to upgrade the overall system architecture, ensuring that the software is more universal and consistent, and ultimately creating a dispatch and command center similar to Didi Taxi, with strong scalability.

At the same time, in order to enhance the adaptability of the vehicle end to the environment, lower network requirements, and enhance the ability to migrate to other scenarios, we have decided to place more decisions on the vehicle end, which also provides a software re architecture foundation for rapid deployment capabilities.

And components for auxiliary operations are also essential, because the final unmanned mining operation must be a combination of human and unmanned operations, and some links must be more flexible for human operation. Therefore, in order to combine manned and unmanned driving, Yikong has launched an auxiliary operation system.

Finally, vehicle reliability is also very important, and front mounted mass-produced new energy line controlled mining cards are also essential. To this end, Yikong has released the industry's first new energy unmanned driving line control platform "Yushi", which has the following six characteristics:.

Firstly, it can evolve. For customers, they can choose to use the "Yushi" platform for manned driving and later upgrade to unmanned driving with the help of this frontline control platform.

Secondly, componentization. As a more standardized smart suite, it provides a safer, more efficient, and convenient installation method.

Thirdly, integration. High integration enhances the response speed of the entire chassis and the compatibility with the upper level software.

Fourth, high safety. That is, multi-level line control redundancy and intelligent fault diagnosis.

Fifth, high fuel efficiency. Compared to traditional gasoline vehicles, the "Yushi" platform can save fuel by 25% to 30% and can match different control strategies for different working conditions.

Sixth, generalization. The "Yushi" platform can adapt to different energy systems, as well as different vehicle models and tonnage. Whether it is pure electric, extended range hybrid, or future hydrogen fuel, they are all in the current layout and architecture of EasyControl.

The turning point of commercialization of unmanned mining has arrived.

Yikong believes that the turning point of commercialization for unmanned mining in China has arrived and is currently at a critical stage of large-scale mass replication.

Before this year, unmanned driving in mines was only in the stage of running through technical models and just beginning to be commercialized. Since the beginning of this year, the commercialization of unmanned mining has generated qualitative variables, and mines will become the first commercial scenario to be implemented in the entire L4 level unmanned driving ecosystem, with the following four variables:.

The first is the scaling up of individual mines. Both Easy Control investors and relevant mining parties have deeply realized that the scale of over 200 single mines has made unmanned mining trucks a true production tool for mines. Yikong is currently the only unmanned driving company in the industry that has achieved large-scale operation.

The second is benchmarking against manned driving. This is also the core logic of the turning point in the commercialization of unmanned mining: only by directly competing with manned driving can we cross the turning point and achieve truly large-scale commercial landing.

The third is commercial value. A technology must have commercial value in order to have sustainability and vitality. After this year, the controllable unmanned mining has entered a fully commercialized stage and will continue to lead in manned driving in the future.

The fourth is going out to sea. Since the opening of the epidemic, Yikong has conducted extensive research overseas. Yikong has a competitive advantage in overseas markets. Firstly, compared to overseas solutions, the easily controllable unmanned mining technology is far ahead. Secondly, EasyControl possesses new energy advantages that overseas enterprises do not possess. At present, a large number of overseas mines still lack mature new energy solutions, and China has a huge advantage in new energy. Thirdly, it is the cost reduction advantage of domestic supply chains. It can be said that compared to foreign solutions, the easy to control solution reduces costs several times.