Autonomous Construction Sites

Equipment makers are testing the emerging technologies required to advance automation beyond individual machines.

Doosan Infracore’s Concept-X autonomous worksite incorporates cognitive/control technologies, autonomous driving systems, 5G remote control and 3D drone surveys. (Doosan Infracore)

In the construction world, some companies are not just looking to electrify and automate individual machines—they have their sights set on something much grander: the entire jobsite. And Doosan Infracore expects to do so in the next five years.

Doosan Infracore plans to commercialize Concept-X by 2025. (Doosan Infracore)

In addition to debuting new Doosan models at the ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020 trade show, such as the DA45-5 articulated dump truck, the DL580-5 wheel loader and the DX800LC-5 crawler excavator—the largest Doosan machine yet—the company (booth N10001) also will showcase Concept-X, an autonomous worksite in development at its Boryeong Proving Grounds in South Korea.

Certain individual unmanned technologies have already been introduced in construction machinery, but Doosan Infracore claims a world first for the comprehensive nature of its automation-technology deployment. The company is applying a range of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to the entire construction site operation process, ranging from surveying to the operations of construction equipment such as excavators, wheel loaders and articulated dump trucks.

Image recognition, cognitive/control technologies, autonomous driving systems, 5G remote control, 3D drone surveys, accurate workload estimation and assignment and failure prediction technologies are among the advanced or emerging technologies enabling the recognition, connectivity and control required to make such a site possible.

Supplier collaborations and start-up investments are key to the development of Concept-X, which was first unveiled in November 2019. Bosch, ASI, LG U+ and PoteNit are among the companies that collaborated with Doosan Infracore engineers on the project. In 2018, Doosan Infracore, in partnership with LG U+, introduced 5G-based remote control technology. At bauma 2019, the companies successfully operated an excavator in Incheon, Korea, from their 5G remote-control station at the exhibition site in Munich, Germany—about 8,500 km (5,280 miles) away.

Various academic institutions also assisted with different aspects of technology development for Concept-X. Experts at Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Hanyang University helped to develop new technologies related to AI-based (artificial intelligence) construction equipment operations, drone 3D surveying and operational data analysis.

Commercializing next-gen tech

After the initial testing phase with a wheel loader, Volvo CE plans to expand testing to other machines to see whether it’s possible to operate an entire work cycle using 5G. (Volvo CE)
Volvo CE’s electric and autonomous HX02 load carrier on the new R&D test track in Eskilstuna, Sweden. (Volvo CE)

Doosan Infracore describes Concept-X as a “comprehensive control solution” that can be used to survey worksite topography via 3D drone scanning, establish operational plans based on the topographical data, and operate construction equipment without human intervention. This vision for future construction sites will leave human personnel free to concentrate on more sophisticated analysis and management tasks, according to Doosan Infracore President & CEO Dongyoun Sohn.

“Concept-X is not just an unmanned technology; rather, it integrates multiple state-of-the-art technologies that can respond immediately to all and any of the changes that may arise at construction sites simultaneously,” said Sohn. “It will become a human-centered technology that not only brings about remarkable improvements in economics but also creates more jobs in high-tech industries.”

New technologies introduced during the demonstration included a method to create three-dimensional worksite maps with drone-surveyed data; a technology enabling construction equipment to perform optimized unmanned operations according to any site situation; and a solution that makes real-time monitoring of work progress possible through the X-Center’s control system.

The company is confident that unmanned worksites will significantly boost productivity and economic feasibility by reducing the time and costs required for construction-equipment operations, while making worksites safer. Doosan Infracore plans to commercialize Concept-X by 2025, but it expects to introduce to market each of the individual technologies as soon as they have been fully verified. Drone surveying, cutting-edge data analysis, and autonomous machine operations and control are chief among the technologies that could see commercialization ahead of the comprehensive solution.

Since commercialization is still a ways off, there is little else the company can share at this point. “Many factors will go into what the final product(s) become in the next few years,” said Aaron Kleingartner, marketing manager, Doosan Infracore North America. “The demo was to introduce the concept at full scale. More engineering work is needed to bring the concept to reality.”

Rolling out 5G

Volvo Construction Equipment has put money where its mouth is, so to speak, when it comes to moving electric and autonomous machines closer to production. The manufacturer invested about $1.7 million last year to expand its R&D facilities in Eskilstuna, Sweden, including a new electromobility and automation test track and adding 12 hectares (30 acres) to its existing 45-hectare (111-acre) demo ground specifically for testing its prototype machines.

The intensified focus on automation, which includes several machines working in concert with each other, is supported by onsite 5G technology. A 5G mast installed by Ericsson allows Volvo CE to test remote-controlled machines with much shorter response times than previously possible. Launched in partnership with operator Telia, the more robust communication system is an important step if truly autonomous machines and worksites are to be realized.

“A faster, more reliable mobile network will mean we’re at the forefront of driving a much faster market implementation of technologies like automation. Something that had seemed impossible a few years ago is now a very real opportunity today,” said Calle Skillsäter, Volvo CE’s technical specialist for connected machines. “The goal for us at Volvo CE is to make this system so mature and so successful that we can test it with our customers—to see how this technology can function on a real construction site. Hopefully that will be something we can achieve by the end of the trial.”

The two-year trial, begun in 2019, is employing 5G mobile connectivity to operate a wheel loader via remote control. After this initial testing phase, Volvo CE engineers plan to apply the technology to the HX02 concept hauler. The goal is “to see whether it is possible to have a work cycle operated entirely using 5G. In principle, we can then test 5G with six to eight autonomous haulers transporting gravel across the site,” Skillsäter explained.

The battery-electric HX02 haulers were tested in a quarry in fall 2018 as part of an electric site project with mining company Skanska. The HX02 models since have been optimized in preparation for the first commercial pilot, which was expected to commence in late 2019.

Improved safety is a big factor for pursuing 5G, but its potential to boost productivity is a strong incentive as well, according to Skillsäter. “Today’s remote-control technology provides a delay which makes it very difficult to control a machine with any speed or precision, but 5G will be as good as real time,” he said. “In addition, the picture quality is much better, video footage is in a better resolution and 5G provides a more reliable connection—all of which makes it easier for the operator in the simulator.”

Volvo CE is including a “future” area as part of its outdoor exhibit at ConExpo-Con/Agg (Festival Grounds, F3432), where electromobility and automation are sure to be hot topics.