When will we see autonomous trucks on construction sites?


Self-driving cars are hot topics these days, especially as more test drives occur and industry authorities begin to pursue legislation to keep roads safe without stifling autonomous vehicle innovation. However, it’s also helpful to think about the potential for high-tech cars to excel in certain types of work, on construction sites in particular. What benefits can autonomous construction teams bring?

Artificial intelligence in construction gains popularity

One thing all autonomous vehicles have in common is that they use artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate environments safely. Most have advanced sensors and software to provide information to help you navigate obstacles, recognize changing road conditions, and more.

Developers create artificial intelligence tools to predict what people might do in particular situations. Autonomous vehicle algorithms analyze details of millions of hours driving, then use that information to respond to environmental fluctuations in real time.

The construction industry is already implementing other types of artificial intelligence to get jobs done safely and on time. For example, some sites have robots that help lay bricks, as well as computer vision cameras that can detect safety hazards and failures that can cause a building to fail an inspection.

Other sectors have also shown that AI can work on specialty vehicles. In a case, Ukraine developed armored vehicles for military missions. They could transfer supplies between locations or test unfamiliar roads before other vehicles travel them.

Self-contained construction teams could also become more attractive due to a labor shortage in the sector. Even the most successful uses of autonomous vehicles in construction will require some people to supervise the associated tasks. However, with many construction leaders struggling to find enough workers for upcoming projects, smart teams could reduce the total number of team members needed to meet deadlines.

The autonomous construction team arrived

Some sites already have construction equipment operating without direct human intervention. So a main question is not when these offerings will help with operations, but how long it might take before these products go mainstream enough to reach the mainstream market.

Caterpillar trucks reach a major milestone

Caterpillar has autonomous trucks that customers use primarily to transport materials to mining sites. The company recently announced that the vehicles had exceeded 3 billion tons of material moved.

The number only took another year to reach, suggesting a growing adoption rate. Additionally, news coverage of this feat mentioned that the company had expanded its line of autonomous vehicles by nearly 250% since May 2018.

That increase in product also indicates continued demand for these smart trucks. Business leaders almost certainly wouldn’t continue to invest in that part of the business if it didn’t make financial sense.

These autonomous vehicles are becoming increasingly common in the industry. Also, some construction companies may find them initially when choosing to rent equipment. Enjoying access to new technologies it is one of the many benefits of renting. Customers also only incur costs when they require the equipment for particular jobs.

Therefore, company leaders may decide to rent autonomous construction equipment first to assess whether it meets expectations. From there, some may choose to make purchases.

Autonomous trucks haul rocks in a Norwegian quarry

People often turn to artificial intelligence in construction to help with repetitive tasks. If a robot performs work that carries a high risk of stress and fatigue, that machine can free humans to perform more rewarding tasks that do not carry as high a risk of injury.

Tests are also underway to see if autonomous trucks can safely move materials between sites. If so, company leaders can use them to transfer heavy objects to or from construction sites. Norwegian crane operator Romarheim is working with an autonomous vehicle operator regarding a possible expansion of the technology.

The autonomous provider previously only used its technology for extremely dangerous jobs, such as clearing artillery firing ranges. However, a project associated with a rock quarry will shed light on whether AI can help with repetitive hauling operations.

Humans will load autonomous dump trucks with rocks. From there, automation takes over as trucks follow a set route out of the quarry and depositing loads down a shaft to a crushing plant.

The early stages of testing have people sitting in the trucks to make sure they perform as expected. However, if things go according to plan, the wheel loader driver who places the stones on the trucks before they leave will control the equipment remotely with a tablet.

Autonomous construction crews could improve safety

The construction industry is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous sectors. For example, statistics link the sector 21.1% of the worker deaths in America. Therefore, continuous efforts are made to make it more secure. Self-employed construction crews could collectively play a key role in meeting that goal.

In a recent example, researchers developed an autonomous excavator system (AES) that was successfully deployed in real-life circumstances for more than 24 hours at a time. Excavation Accidents Explain approximately 200 deaths annually in the U.S. However, the team behind the technology believes that automation could lower that number.

Work on this project involved putting the autonomous excavator through 10 real-life scenarios on an enclosed proving ground, and then seeing how the machine performed against conventional equipment of different sizes. The results showed that the autonomous excavator equaled the average efficiency of a human operator for the average amount of materials excavated per hour. Further tests will explore how the machine performs in extreme weather or environmental conditions.

The results could shape the development of future autonomous construction teams and trucks. It is especially remarkable that the machine could run for more than 24 hours without stopping, even in these early stages. That kind of constant work could be a critical advantage if projects fall behind schedule or clients request tighter deadlines.

Autonomous dump trucks help in road construction

Getting road works done as efficiently as possible is vital to reducing the overall disruption experienced by people who frequently travel through the area. A 2019 project in the UK sought to learn if an autonomous dump truck It could support the workflow during construction on an English motorway.

The test only involved one of those vehicles operating away from other construction equipment in an enclosed environment. However, a representative of the project said that future experiments could involve more realistic scenarios in which the dump truck works in conjunction with human-operated machinery.

The vehicle traveled along a prescribed route while in operation, and the truck featured a variety of sensors that allow it to detect and navigate obstacles. The people associated with the project believe that increased efficiency will be one of the main benefits of implementing such trucks. That is particularly true because these trucks can operate continuously because they do not need breaks.

Modernization opens up additional opportunities

Taking advantage of this type of artificial intelligence in construction does not necessarily mean investing in new equipment. A company called SafeAI specializes in modernizing equipment in the construction and mining industries so that they are capable of operating autonomously. Company representatives say that such updates add approximately 1,000 hours of productivity per machine every year.

SafeAI technology works with equipment associated with any system or manufacturer. Dump trucks, Ford F-150 pickups and skid steers are among the vehicles that have gained more features thanks to the company’s approach. Goodyear and Obayashi are among the clients currently working with the company, which operates test sites in the United States and Australia.

Every modernized machine goes through extensive testing to see how it performs in various temperatures and terrains. The work with Obayashi is focused on efforts to create autonomous construction sites, although it is in the early stages. A test in California involves an articulated dump truck that completes the loading and transport unloading cycles.

The people associated with the project believe that these real-world tests will help SafeAI set a standard for future autonomous construction equipment. In addition, Obayashi representatives hope that high-tech trucks will lead to safer and more productive construction sites.

Autonomous trucks could bring supplies

So far, the examples here refer to freelance teams working directly at the sites. However, that’s not the only relevant use case for construction.

Work is underway to test trucks that hauling cargo for hundreds of miles without a person at the wheel. For now, most trips have a human sitting in the passenger seat, ready to intervene if things go wrong. However, the hope is that these vehicles will operate completely independently.

If those trucks go mainstream, such AI applications in construction could mean smart vehicles keeping sites stocked with lumber, bricks, tools, and other essential resources that affect whether a project finishes on time and under budget.

Similar to the number of construction professionals who directly experience labor shortages when trying to fill vacant positions, representatives of transportation companies run into such a problem due to factors such as a high turnover rate and a strong working age. Therefore, the success of autonomous trucks could have a mutually beneficial effect on both industries, albeit for slightly different reasons.

AI in construction breaks new ground

It can be years before people commonly see autonomous construction equipment in action. However, these examples illustrate that decision makers are already interested in the possibilities and eager to become early adopters of the technology.

Given that artificial intelligence in construction powers drones and robots, it makes sense that people are also exploring the potential of autonomous trucks. Even if some experiments do not have the expected results, they will undoubtedly teach people valuable lessons about better ways to develop and use autonomous construction equipment in the future.

Emily newton

Emily Newton is a technical and industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories about how technology is changing the industrial sector.


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