The Dawn Of Autonomous Construction Vehicles

I Robot Dump Truck (With Apologies to Isaac Asimov)

Self-driving cars are all the rage. Ford is promising a fleet of them by 2021 and sales to consumers by 2025. Uber is moving rapidly to shed their drivers sometime over the next decade, and autonomous taxis have already been deployed in Singapore.

But what about self-driving construction vehicles: dump trucks, graders, loaders? Will we soon be living in an age in which construction sites are overrun with robotic vehicles? The dawn of autonomous construction vehicles is upon us.

The issue is important because the operating margins in construction are razor thin, even with stable diesel fuel prices and emerging technologies that reduce fuel consumption and enhance engine performance.

Driverless Hauler Fleets

Already, Komatsu has developed driverless hauler fleets in the mining industry, writes Chris Wood on One drive hauler is using guidance software for operation and telematics to notify machines when they need regular maintenance or service. It guides them to a repair shop on site.  Komatsu and other companies are steadily moving in the direction of getting rid of the human operator.

Komatsu has already developed remote-control bulldozers.  It’s also created automated blade functions on bulldozers and tech that provides data on grading, elevation, fuel efficiency, idle time, and other performance metrics, Woods writes.

“That’s quite a bit of automation in the machines that was not there just a couple of years back,” Jason Anetsberger, a senior product manager for Rolling Meadows, IL–based Komatsu America Corp, told Woods. “It’s deepening our understanding of productivity and percent of job completed in addition to machine health and position.”

Construction Sites: Not Your Average Urban Grid

This isn’t going to be easy, though. Construction sites are far less predictable than an urban grid like New York City or Singapore. Conditions and situations can change rapidly.  Still, writes Woods, “blade control on bulldozers uses machine learning to consistently optimize the angle of attack, backhoes feature return to dig automation, and even rider comfort control (available for more than a decade) are examples of technology assuming repetitive tasks or otherwise increasing efficiency for operators, even if the machine isn’t in full control.”