Autonomous construction

While 2020 was a year we may wish to forget, 2021 could be remembered as a year of dramatic change. In fact, if anything good can be said to have come about because of the pandemic – at least in terms of construction – it could be the industry finally waking up to the benefits of technology.

We are, for example, seeing a huge proliferation of construction technology start-ups, many of which are moving us closer to fully-autonomous machines on construction sites. This may worry some, but it shouldn’t; the primary drivers are efficiency, reduced emissions and the enhanced comfort and safety of operators.

Gaurav Kikani, vice president of the tech start-up Built Robotics, believes a different method of construction is long overdue. He says, “The way we build today is largely unchanged from the way we used to build 50 years ago. Within two years, I think we’re really going to turn the corner, and you’re going to see an explosion of robotics being used on construction sites.

“We’ll start to see technological innovation move from the mechanical side to the software side. This change will ultimately be a big win for the construction industry and help us build better, faster, and more productively to face the biggest challenges in the built world.”

Available on the market today

In this feature, we are looking at the diverse applications that can be undertaken by semi- and fully-autonomous equipment that is – more or less – available to contractors today. A straightforward example is Bauer subsidiary Rammtechnik’s (RTG) Operation Remote Control for piling rigs.

With the new tool, RTG says the entire set-up process can be carried out by an operator in just 15 minutes, with significant safety benefits, particularly on sites where space is at a premium.

Bernhard Lindermair, RTG’s managing director, said, “The newly-developed operation remote control can be used for all applications. With the remote control, you bring the rig into position and you get all the functions for the operation on the remote-control unit.

“The machine comes with an iPad, which you remove from the cabin and put it on the remote control. So, you can see all the functions and make your reports, which is something absolutely unique for piling rigs – a big step forward in safety and, important nowadays, you can use the machine in a single-man operation.”
Moving a step further from the cab, Caterpillar recently held a press conference to announce that its Cat Command remote-control stations will be available for purchase by construction contractors in Europe from the first quarter of 2021.

Jason Ramshaw, global commercial manager for Cat Productivity – Automation & Autonomy, said the latest version of the Command solution has the potential to give operators total, almost-real-time control of their machines from anywhere in the world.