Teleo is blending machine learning with the skills of human operators to help the construction industry navigate labour shortages.
When installed on heavy equipment, the company’s new system, Teleo Supervised Autonomy, creates a remote-controlled and semi-autonomous machine.
Several machines throughout North America have been retrofitted with Teleo Supervised Autonomy and the system is now being deployed on its first jobsites.
“Something that Teleo provides that is quite unique is we retrofit any make or model of machine to create something that operators can work with,” said Vinay Shet, co-founder and CEO of Teleo.
Fully autonomous construction equipment, which doesn’t require any human intervention, is still several years away from becoming reality. Teleo’s system keeps operators involved, having them remotely perform complex tasks that technology cannot yet handle.
“We’re talking about supervised autonomy, not just pure autonomy. The idea is the operator is front and centre, and they get to manage the fleet of machines,” Shet said.
“When you blend human operations with the autonomy with the machinery, that is when you build a real product.”
Addressing the labour shortage
Teleo Supervised Autonomy allows an operator to work from the comfort of a command centre. A key benefit is that the command centre allows one operator to control multiple machines.
“You can put one machine in autonomy mode, so that machine can travel from Point A to Point B. During that time, the operator can switch to another machine and do something else. Suddenly productivity has gone up,” Shet said.
As well, by transitioning the operator role from the field to a remote command centre, Shet explained Teleo is creating a safe and comfortable work environment, which makes the job more attractive to youth entering the workforce, while also making the job more accessible.
The appeal of working from the command centre, paired with the productivity increase of one operator managing multiple machines, will ease labour issues.
“There’s a labour shortage across the industry. This is the Number 1 pain point for every customer we speak with,” he said. “They have more work to do than they have people to do that work. People are the bottleneck in that sense.”
Teleo’s system includes the company’s proprietary software; a universal retrofit kit customized for any machine; a remote command centre to operate the equipment; and a mesh network that offers connectivity on site so the command centre can communicate with the machine.
The universal retrofit kit is designed to withstand the harsh conditions associated with operating heavy construction equipment. The kit incorporates state-of-the-art sensors such as high dynamic range cameras that can offer high-definition visibility and video footage both day and night.
“The cool part of the hardware installed on the machines is that it is out of the way. If the operators want to operate in manual mode, they can do so,” Shet explained. “They hit a single switch and go back to manual without any interruption. If they want to go back to Teleo mode, they flip the switch again.”
So far, Teleo has equipped dozers, wheel loaders and trucks with its system, but the technology is compatible across equipment in the industry, regardless of age or manufacturer.
“We are able to convert a wide range of machines. The technology is broad and not limited by the machines themselves,” Shet said.
First in Canada
John Aarts Group, an integrated construction services company based in London, Ontario, is the first company to leverage remote operations to virtually load a concrete plant. A John Deere 624K wheel loader will be retrofitted with Teleo’s technology to remotely load and unload materials in Tillsonburg, Ontario, starting in the second quarter of 2023.
This job usually includes a lot of stop and go work, which results in unproductive time. The Teleo system will increases efficiency allowing operators at John Aarts to focus on higher impact work.
“Our goal with introducing Teleo’s autonomous technology is to further support our team,” said Ryan Aarts, CEO of John Aarts Group.
“There is more work to be done than there are operators, and Teleo is helping us to create opportunities for team members to do more of the meaningful work they like to do. We’ve always been early adopters of technology and we are partnering with Teleo to load our concrete plant because we saw an opportunity to increase efficiency.”
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Alongside John Aarts Group, Tomahawk, a Florida-based excavation and site development company, and Teichert, a California-based construction and materials company, are some of the first users of Teleo’s technology.
“We have had two trucks sitting around for 10 months without operators in them,” said Scott Lyons, managing member of Tomahawk Construction.
“With Teleo, more people will be attracted to this job because they can run trucks from our office and save hours of drive time to and from jobsites.”
Based in California, Teleo was founded in 2019 by Shet and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Rom Clement, who both led autonomous vehicle teams at Lyft and helped develop Street View and other foundational technologies at Google.
The company is now expanding globally through a new dealer network, including SMS Equipment in Canada.
“I had a front row seat to see that while there is a lot of advancement in machine learning and AI, there’s a limit to how far it can go in building a fully finished product,” Shet said.
“Teleo’s supervised autonomous technology enables companies to realize value now, rather than waiting several years for full autonomy.”