Technology and construction don’t necessarily go hand in hand. The industry can be old school, but construction companies are embracing more technology every day. We discussed this trend last year when we took a deep dive on drones in construction. Today, one of the most interesting developments in construction is the incorporation of autonomous vehicles.
Self-Operating Construction Equipment Is Coming
From shows like I-Robot and Silicon Valley, the idea of self-driving vehicles has been portrayed as a scary, futuristic, sci-fi invention. However, this future is closer than it seems- and safer. Self-operating construction equipment is already operating on mining sites in Australia. At the Solomon Hub Iron Ore Mine, autonomous Caterpillar trucks have resulted in a 20% boost in productivity. Another Australian mine, Rio Tinto, has actually saved 15% by introducing an autonomous fleet 73 trucks strong.
Self-driving vehicles this size are an interesting sight (here’s the video from Caterpillar). These trucks can position themselves to accept payload, traverse the dumpsite, drop materials, and return- all without operators. Komatsu has gone a step further: they actually released a dump truck that doesn’t even have a cab.
Self-operating construction equipment makes a load of sense for the mining industry, where repetitive motions can be automated. But as technology improves, the capabilities of these systems do as well. The construction industry is full of repetitive processes, and automation may be closer than many think. Specifically, infrastructure construction could eventually be automated, at least in part. Back in 2015, Iowa State actually put on a conference covering Autonomous and Robotic Construction of Infrastructure.
Future of Driverless Vehicles
If you need more evidence that driverless vehicles are closer than they appear, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently released guidelines for deploying and testing self-driving cars. The guidelines, titled “A Vision For Safety,” span 25 pages and cover everything from human machine interface to cybersecurity. This is the second set of guidelines that have been released, and they’re expected to be updated yet again in the upcoming months. What’s more, legislation on self-driving vehicles is being passed left and right.
Off the roadways and out of construction sites, companies are looking to introduce driverless vehicles into their warehouses. One company, Clearpath Robotics, has already found itself in the warehouses of Caterpillar and GE. The founders of Clearpath have also worked with the Department of Defense and NASA.
Could You Lien Driverless Work?
Since self-operating construction equipment is already on a few job sites (and they could be U.S. bound soon), we can’t help but ask the question – “Could you lien it?” The answer is probably “Yes.” Most states allow equipment renters to file mechanics liens, so it’s hard to see why this would be any different. Just like current construction equipment, driverless construction vehicles could (probably) be liened depending on the state’s mechanics lien laws. If you’re curious about your state, check out our nationwide resources.
To help equipment renters, we created this checklist for using mechanics liens.
Now imagine a job site where drones are buzzing above and self-operating construction equipment is operating below. Ok… that actually sounds sort of terrifying. But adding automated processes to construction will help standardize work, improve safety, and make projects more efficient. It may seem ridiculous, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether these machines will take jobs from construction workers at some point in the future. Considering the current shortage of construction workers, that’s a question for further down the road.