Tech Toys: The latest revolutions in remote control
Technologies like BIM, drones, virtual reality and real-time workflow software have made an entrance that will forever alter the scope of the construction industry. Every few weeks, Construction Dive provides a roundup of the latest technology product announcements that promise to boost productivity by saving contractors time, money and labor. To view the entire series, click here.
Excavate with an Xbox controller
Excavator operators often struggle to control their machine from inside its cab while on unstable ground, in low visibility environments or various other difficult working conditions.
Stanley Tools’ new solution to this problem, it says, is a retrofit kit that allows operators to pilot any Bobcat, Caterpillar, Kubota and John Deere compact excavator under 10 tons with a remote controller.
Developed in partnership with Humanistic Robotics Network, Stanley’s wireless Remote Operated Control System emulates the iconic design of the controller used for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console. Features include dual joysticks, ergonomic buttons, status display and an emergency stop button.
Stanley’s infrastructure team designed the system to plug in easily to excavators in around five hours even by those with little to no mechanical experience. Once installed, drivers can switch at any time between manual handling and remote controlled operation with the press of a button.
This allows operators to hop out of the vehicle when visibility from the cab is impaired, for instance, to allow for a broader view and wider depth perception of the working area, the company said. Also, when the machine is working in dangerous conditions such as on a steep bank, unsteady ground or in areas with toxic materials, operators can stand at a safe distance.
Furthermore, Stanley believes the ROC, currently under beta testing and commercially available in 2020, will attract younger, more tech-savvy workers that are drawn to the idea of working with a video game-like system.
Rely on a network structured for remote control
Machinery OEMs across the pond are developing remote control systems for construction machinery as well, but with a different approach. In Sweden, Volvo Construction Equipment engineers are working with telecommunications providers Telia and Ericsson to implement and fine-tune the country’s first 5G network for industrial use in the goal of better-facilitating connected machines for remote and autonomous operation.
“Automation has several levels and having 5G is an important technical support to enable us to drive development in this area,” said Melker Jernberg, president of Volvo CE. “These trials ... will include the remote control of a conventional wheel loader but also further tests of the HX2 concept load carrier.”
While remote control and autonomous operation of heavy equipment on jobsites will be inevitable in many cases, and remote control hardware such as Stanley’s ROC controller are being rapidly developed and launched all the time, a wireless infrastructure system is crucial in enabling the technology.
“To connect business-critical machines and vehicles requires a solution that is able to handle the massive amounts of data with guaranteed connection,” said Telia Sweden CEO Anders Olsson. “That is what 5G can give us.”
Remote-control technology has a time lag that limits an operator's ability to control machines at high speed or with high precision, the press release explained, but 5G will make remote control both safer and more effective.
Drill and pile from a distance
Trimble, a firm that specializes in geospatial navigation solutions for construction and other industries, recently launched software that facilitates remote drilling and piling operations.
The Groundworks machine control system was designed to get contractors’ personnel away from machines during operation while having the tools necessary to drill and pile safely and accurately, the Sunnyvale, California-based firm said.
Contractors can “easily and precisely drill to the specified location, depth, orientation and inclination angle," the press release said, and "achieve centimeter-level accuracy with stakeless navigation," according to Scott Crozier, general manager of Trimble's civil engineering and construction division.
Minimizing the need for traditional stakes and surveying, Trimble Groundworks can improve jobsite safety by reducing the number of people working in close proximity to dangerous drilling and piling hardware, the release explained.
The system enables machines to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in almost any condition and can decrease downtime caused by low visibility or bad weather, it continued, while reducing surveying costs associated with staking and as-built checks.
The software is available immediately and can be integrated with other Trimble construction products.