The Future of Construction: Making Dirt Machines Autonomous

Automated excavators and smart dozers. Big and smart is the name of  the game.

Introducing Built Robotics, a robotics company based in San Francisco which build robotics kits to upgrade construction equipment into smart autonomous machines. The kits are designed to be retrofitted to existing construction equipment and give machines the ability to operate autonomously.

The company aims to make construction safer by automating equipment to move earth in construction industries. Their smart kits currently support dozers, excavators and skid steers with other equipment on the way.

With already 6000 hours of autonomous operation, the robots are built with safety as the highest priority. The robots use sensors, GPS and other sophisticated technology like LIDAR to keep the machines from harming the humans. GPS navigation keeps the machine confined to a certain work area and the wireless emergency stop system allows the operator to shut the machine off remotely.

According to their website, the construction industry is experiencing a shortage in labor and so these kits and autonomous equipment will help fill the gap and maintain productivity. So far Built Robotics have partnered with Independent Construction Company, the largest grading contractor in California to grade lots for new homes.

Again, we keep seeing the trend of companies leveraging autonomous robots to perform mundane, repeatable tasks so the human can focus on more important, higher-value tasks.

The founder of Built Robotics, Noah Ready-Campbell met Andrew Liang and started the company back in 2016. Andrew Liang is the co-founder and also the lead robotics engineer for the company. Noah grew up around construction because his dad was a carpenter. One day Noah took his dads advice and learned how to dig a pond in his backyard by renting a Deere 135G excavator. From there, he met Andrew and six months later, they had their first prototype.

They did not want to compete with the already tough construction machine industry and decided to not build their machines from the ground up. Instead they built kits that could be used on already available construction machines and renting those kits out to companies.

Here’s another video of a dad and his daughter digging a hole for the foundation of a new house using an Autonomous Track Loader (ATL).

As you can see, the track loaders job is set in their software by programming and telling it where to move the dirt. After that, the machine operates without any guidance and is confined to a specific construction area that is set. At one point, the autonomous track loader also detected humans walking and stopped working for a few seconds. The most beautiful part is the machine was still working while the humans left the construction site at night.

Built Robotics has recently raised $15 million dollars to hire more team members and upgrade their 1,400 square foot “office”.  It is also said that Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies has also invested in Built Robotics.

The big “smart” machines are here. Soon we will have autonomous oil tankers and cargo aircraft.

Here’s a video on Caterpillar autonomous hauler for the mining industry.

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