By Jordan Parker
Built Robotics is expanding its product line of autonomous heavy equipment, both in size and variety.
In 2017, Built Robotics unveiled its first autonomous machine: a compact track loader. Now, its fleet of equipment includes dozers and excavators. As well, the machines have completed more than 6,100 hours of autonomous operation, the equivalent of 480,000 km of testing with self-driving cars.
One of the autonomous fleet’s jobsites includes a partnership with Mortenson Construction, building foundations for a wind turbine project.
“We’re working on earthmoving for renewables projects like wind and solar farms,” said Kelly Dillon, head of people operations at Built Robotics. “These projects are in remote areas with a lot of repetitive work far away from workforce centres, so they are great for our autonomous equipment.”
Transforming heavy equipment
The company uses a sensor system that is capable of transforming existing heavy equipment into autonomous machines.
The sensors, along with its accompanying software, allows a supervisor to use a tablet to set a site perimeter and input the project plans to dictate what tasks the machine will complete.
“The terrain model for the finished wind-turbine foundation excavations are loaded into the excavators and they go to work on the job site,” Dillon said.
The Built Robotics hardware uses the same sensors that is found in self-driving cars. The autonomous software is then designed for the specific construction requirements.
An on-site remote operator is also part of the process, and supervises the machines. The operator also installs kits, run robots and troubleshoots any issues that may arise.
“The shortage of qualified labour is an industry-wide challenge right now and finding the skilled workers that large infrastructure projects demand can be even more difficult in locations like these,” Dillon said.
“Our robotic equipment is able to shoulder some of the load by assisting with basic, repetitive tasks, freeing up human operators to focus on the more specific, complex and critical activities.”
Dillon added the autonomous system is able to boost safety on the jobsite.
“By taking workers out of harm’s way, our technology has the potential to make autonomous job sites safer, more inclusive work environments,” Dillon said.
From Google to Built Robotics
The company is the creation of Noah Ready-Campbell, a former Google employee who sold his first company to eBay in 2015. He founded Built Robotics three years ago.
“Noah has always had a passion for robotics. His dad was a contractor when Noah was growing up, so he was familiar with the industry,” Dillon said. “He saw an opportunity to bring self-driving technology to the construction industry.”
The company has completed more than 10 commercial projects so far, with five more in the hopper to be completed through the end of the year.
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“Each project is generally three to six months in length. The machines are about as fast and accurate as average operators, but not quite as good as the best,” she said.
Dillon added there are some great things in the future for the young Built Robotics brand.
“We have an R&D fleet of equipment that we’ve deployed onto job sites across the country. As we begin to install our robotic upgrade kits to our customer’s existing equipment, we will also train our customer’s equipment operators and mechanics on our technology.”