Technology on the Building Site – Part 2 (Science fiction or fact)

Technology in construction has changed the industry completely and empowers employees and employers to make more informed decisions to increase productivity and safety. The advancement in technology is also helping larger enterprises address current challenges and adapt to the future.

Imagine turning up to work to find multiple bulldozers and excavators doing the preparation work without being manned. In fact, as you get closer you realise some of the equipment is cab-less and has no manual controls. This is because the operators are most likely standing at a safe distance whilst operating the machinery. As the construction industry continues to reap the benefits of tech, autonomous and semi-autonomous construction equipment will be the future and it will lead to safer work environments and more accurate work.

Recently, Doosan (a major equipment manufacturer) has used the growth in 5G technology to operate an excavator in South Korea from the Bauma exhibition in Germany. From 8,500km away, this is definitely a world first and shows potential of how this breakthrough in technology may look in the future.

How long before we will be able to give an excavator an autonomous task to carry out on its own?

The used the popular TeleOperation to form this exercise, along with technology produced by South Korean company LG U+.

In order to minimise the lag time and maximise the reliability of TeleOperation software’s, it’s required to live video stream the operator’s station. However, it’s key to note that the new 5G network is said to be up to 10 times faster bandwidth and 10 times lower latency than the 4G network. 

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Science Fiction in 2004 but a reality in 2021?

With this being said, self-driving cars have risen in popularity and received lots of media attention over recent years, with huge companies such as Google working tirelessly to bring driverless cars to market. Remote controlled construction equipment will rely on the same technology used in self driving cars, which is showing positive signs of working effectively.

How does it work?

Thanks to laser scanners, mobile mapping and the advancement of drones, a 3D map of the existing site is created upon preparation. This allows civil engineers to create site development plans which are then converted to 3D models. Once complete, the autonomous machines will be put onto the site, and a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is used to identify and track the equipment’s location on the site. The software relies on real time data that is transmitted from the equipment to instruct the machinery on where to go and how much earth to extract.

The equipment is constantly sending back data to the operators’ systems which automatically updates the 3D to construct a more accurate, real time picture of the current site. It also notes key environmental changes such as the weather which can make a difference to the work. The real time data is a crucial component to this technology and allows operators to ensure that their work is accurate, and that the machinery is working as efficiently as possible.  

All sounds good right? But people do have their reservations.

Remote Construction

Some people worry that this huge advancement in technology will put thousands of heavy machinery operators out of work. However, it’s actually quite the opposite. Skilled operators will still be in high demand as more of this equipment starts being used widely across the world. Operators will be needed to keep track of the work and monitor the movements whilst working remotely and be on hand if there is ever a problem.

As well as skilled operators remaining in demand, autonomous and semi-autonomous equipment will also allow employers to take on staff with little or no experience in the industry. This is because the amount of stuff to learn, in order to operate the machinery, will decrease massively.

As mentioned, this process does rely on the use of GPS technology. It’s needed to guide and control moving equipment like dozers, graders and obviously, excavators. It has been quickly adopted by many large construction firms as it’s proven to speed up the project delivery and cut costs significantly. When using GPS technology, it’s key that you meet the necessary requirements needed in machine guidance, one being a 3D terrain model. At the moment, most of the design practice around infrastructure is designed in 2D formats, although this will be soon to change.

Read Part one on Drones and BIM

Application of fully Autonomous Excavators and Equipment

Wherever there is risk to human life. Or where conditions prevail that would fail to support human existence. Which could mean a number of use cases for fully autonomous or semi autonomous equipment. Demolition is a small use case. What if there is a need for works in a radiated environment? Or where conditions are simply unbearable for productive human endeavour.

How has technology evolved for you in the workplace?

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