Construction Machinery Manufacturers Embrace Remote Control Technology
Construction machinery manufacturers are making significant efforts in the field of remote control technology for construction equipment. Komatsu has initiated the provision of a remote control system using the high-speed communication standard, “5G.” Although they have been conducting demonstrative experiments, their plan is to introduce this technology to civil construction sites and commence mass production by the end of the fiscal year 2023. Caterpillar and Hitachi Construction Machinery are expanding their capabilities in remote control. Meanwhile, Kobe Steel’s subsidiary, Kobelco Construction Machinery, is collaborating with startups to enhance the sophistication of their remote control systems. In the construction industry, where a shortage of manpower is becoming increasingly critical, construction equipment manufacturers are rushing to support efficiency improvements through remote control.
Komatsu’s Cutting-Edge Remote Control System
Komatsu began offering its remote control system in March. They aim to complete on-site validation by the first half of the fiscal year 2023 and proceed with its gradual introduction to the market. This system utilizes high-definition video transmitted from construction equipment to enable a remote operation with a “sense of presence similar to the actual driver’s seat,” allowing operators to monitor the machine’s surroundings, including the front, back, left, and right. To achieve this, they employ a remote control cockpit designed by their subsidiary, EARTHBRAIN, located in Tokyo’s Minato ward.
Collaborative Verification for Customized Implementation
In the future, Komatsu will collaborate with Oono Development, a company already utilizing their remote control system, based in Matsuyama City. Together, they will focus on validating the technology and ensuring safety, enabling customization to meet the unique demands of customers and job sites. Komatsu conducted demonstrative experiments of remote control for construction and mining machinery using 5G in 2020, which has led them to the stage of implementing the technology in real construction settings.
Innovative Development and Integration
The construction equipment used is developed based on Komatsu’s wireless remote control specifications. It combines software and controllers to convert the remote control signals into wireless control. This technology utilizes 5G provided by NTT Communications to establish a connection between construction sites and remote control centers through the cloud. Moreover, Komatsu’s involvement in surveying drones and semi-automatic construction equipment enhances overall construction efficiency, known as “Smart Construction,” offering advantages such as optimizing the loading process for dump trucks.
Other Industry Players Embrace Remote Control
Caterpillar is introducing its remote control system, “Cat Command Station,” initially overseas and preparing for a domestic release in Japan. Their current models can also be retrofitted with this technology, helping reduce installation costs. At the “Construction and Surveying Productivity Improvement Exhibition (CSPI-EXPO)” held from May 24 to 26, 2023, at Makuhari Messe in Chiba City, Caterpillar publicly demonstrated remote control of bulldozers, marking the first such event in Japan.
Hitachi Construction Machinery is set to release mid-sized remote control shovels in the fiscal year 2023, primarily targeting civil engineering sites like land development and river construction. While they had previously conducted demonstrative experiments on mining machinery with simple operations, this time they are focusing on hydraulic shovels in the 10-30 ton class, a category with a significant number of units in operation. They are preparing remote control-capable vehicles and equipping them with necessary remote control controllers and imaging systems, all while engaging in discussions with customers. Additionally, they plan to release similar automated hydraulic shovels in the same class that are compatible with automation.
Kobelco Construction Machinery’s Innovative Approach
Kobelco Construction Machinery is also advancing the development of its remote control system, known as “K-DIVE.” In May, they announced their investment in Jizaiye, a startup originating from the University of Tokyo. Kobelco aims to leverage the technology developed through K-DIVE across various sectors. Their immediate focus is on supporting Jizaiye in the commercialization of a platform that enables remote control of tasks traditionally performed on-site. Following this, Kobelco Construction Machinery will integrate Jizaiye’s technology into their digitalization efforts for construction sites.
Hiroshi Hosomi, Managing Executive Officer of Kobelco Construction Machinery, expresses his optimism, stating, “We anticipate that the technological developments of Jizaiye will eventually find applications in remote control of construction equipment.”
Meeting the Demand for Remote Control
In Japan’s construction industry, the challenge of labor shortages looms large, making the demand for remote control systems, allowing a single worker to operate multiple pieces of construction equipment without relocating, a compelling necessity. However, it is important to note that the widespread implementation of communication infrastructure and the mitigation of delays are areas that still require significant advancements in technology, as noted by industry experts. Further progress is essential for successful implementation.