Building on the success of its autonomous and remote-control equipment for mining, Caterpillar is now well down the autonomy path for construction equipment. In this article, Joe Forcash of Cat® Robotics outlines the development of a semi-autonomous Compact Track Loader (CTL) that was recently showcased for the first time.
By Joe Forcash, Engineering Manager, Cat Robotics
That autonomy layer has a big job to do. Its onboard sensor and intelligence systems have to take in lots of information from the jobsite, then process it quickly to ensure safe, efficient operation.
For example, the machine needs to be able to distinguish between inanimate obstacles and live people. Using something called “dynamic path planning,” the system can quickly calculate a way to go around stationary obstacles.
In addition, the system is intelligent enough to know when there’s a person in its path. In that case, it will either give the person more space when planning a new course, or it will simply slow down or stop. It will do the same for light vehicles such as pickup trucks.
There’s one more step to the integration of autonomy into a construction jobsite. While the machine can be programmed to run as safely as possible, site processes also need to be revisited to maximize both production and safety.
People need to keep somewhat farther away from autonomous equipment. If they try to work as closely as they do to staffed equipment, they’ll force the machine to limit its speed, reducing production efficiency.
Caterpillar is currently conducting field trials at customer jobsites to work through these issues. We’re learning how best to integrate autonomy into specific applications, and we’ll be incorporating customer and jobsite feedback into the eventual commercial releases of autonomous construction equipment.
One factor we’re exploring in our field trials is the expanded skills operators will need to bring to the automated jobsite. As autonomous equipment takes over simple, repetitive tasks and those in potentially hazardous environments, it will help fill the gaps behind today’s labor shortages.
Even better, it will free up equipment operators to build their skill sets to take on more jobs. Remote-control operators will need to be able to jump from machine to machine or even from site to site, so they’ll need to know how to run different machines in a variety of applications. And as new autonomous equipment comes online, they’ll need the ability to act more as equipment managers, rather than machine operators, overseeing a number of machines working at once.
These expanded skill sets will not only make construction work more engaging and attractive to a new generation of employees, but they will also make them even more valuable to their employers.
Construction equipment technology is advancing day by day. It pays to look ahead and stay informed on the latest developments, even if you’re not jumping into remote-control or autonomous equipment anytime soon. The more you know about what’s coming, the better you’ll be able to adapt to these changes when you’re ready.
For more information on other developments in remote-control and autonomous technologies for construction:
If you’re ready to dive into these exciting technologies, get in touch with your local Cat dealer, who can show you what’s available today and help you get started with technologies that make sense for your business.