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By John Biggs
November 12, 2018
Automation has improved by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and the technology is proving viable as more companies start to incorporate some degree of autonomy into their vehicles. For example, companies like Caterpillar and Kumatsu have applied LIDAR and learning systems to autonomous haul trucks in their fleets, providing the vehicles with rudimentary perceptive abilities.
But so far, most of these early test programs have focused on relatively simple tasks, like hauling materials in closed-off mine sites. Looking to take a giant leap forward in how machinery perceives the world around it, Doosan Bobcat has partnered with a Silicon Valley startup specializing in adding artificial intelligence to heavy machinery with the aim of bringing more and better automation to the jobsite.
As part of the pilot program with Doosan Bobcat, SafeAI will be adding its bleeding-edge AI technology, Deep Neural Networks and Deep Reinforcement Learning into Bobcat-powered equipment. The company says this will enable it to “perceive complex dynamic environments around equipment and provide automated control.”
Such environments typically require much smaller, more compact equipment capable of greater precision. By applying its combination of artificial intelligence technologies, it gives heavy equipment a far greater sense of its surroundings, which could tip the scales for broader adoption of smart equipment.
“At SafeAI we are building a safe, AI-enabled autonomous platform for the equipment industry,” Dr. Bibhrajit Halder, CEO and co-founder of SafeAI said in a company news release posted on ForConstructionPros.
The company says it believes the evolution of artificial intelligence is set to kick off a seismic shift in automation’s role in construction, one that could fundamentally transform the industry. SafeAI says it hopes its platform will facilitate that transformation, using its technology to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce overall operations costs.
“We live in an on-demand, highly connected world,” Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation at Doosan Bobcat North America said in the release. “The customers who purchase our machines expect to have the latest and greatest technology at their fingertips. Through our partnership with SafeAI, we hope to work toward our ultimate goal of enabling our customers to work more efficiently on the jobsite.”
The SafeAI and Bobcat pilot is reminiscent of the recently announced partnership between Komatsu and chipmaker NVIDIA, who joined forces last year to make jobsites safer using AI. The program is an extension of Komatsu’s SMARTCONSTRUCTION initiative, which uses data to enhance worker safety and productivity.
“Artificial intelligence is sweeping across industries, and its next frontier is autonomous intelligent machines,” NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang said at a 2017 NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference, as reported by ForConstructionPros.
“Future machines will perceive their surroundings and be continuously alert, helping operators work more efficiently and safely. The construction and mining industries will benefit greatly from these advances.”
Komatsu is using NVIDIA’s technology, consisting of a combination of cameras, drones and real-time video analytics to give the equipment the ability to better visualize jobsites, and draw meaningful insights from what it sees. Working in concert, the various technologies provide detailed 3D images that show how a construction site’s equipment, materials and workers are interacting, and how those interactions can be improved upon.
Construction work remains one of the most dangerous professions, with thousands of workplace injuries each year in the U.S. alone. Many of those accidents involve heavy equipment or vehicles. By applying the latest technology to boost the on-board intelligence of heavy machinery, it can more safely and efficiently coexist with human counterparts. For any technology to have a chance of taking off in construction, it has to demonstrably lead to gains in safety or productivity. In the case of the movement to produce smarter construction equipment, it could lead to both.
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