Smart construction equipment is on the horizon, but is the industry ready for it? Tools are evolving, from AI-powered driverless construction equipment to intuitive IoT sensor technology. It remains to be seen whether or not the sector is prepared to adapt to these major changes.
IoT Smart Construction Equipment
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the growing network of interconnected electronic devices, such as smart sensors and appliances. In construction, these items can relay information back to a central hub, giving teams real-time insights into equipment around the work sites. IoT is at the heart of the smart construction equipment movement and has a lot to offer, including for today’s fluid power vehicles. There are many applications for IoT in this sector, from real-time vehicle tracking to optimized fuel usage.
IoT will likely be among the first smart construction technologies to be widely adopted. It doesn’t require all-new vehicles, and sensors could be connected to almost any vehicle a company already has. They can monitor fuel consumption, downtime and vehicle performance.
Construction companies can use this data to save money and optimize their vehicle operations. Plus, IoT technology is becoming more durable and lightweight as it advances, opening up new potential applications in construction. IoT devices can even extend equipment’s life span through predictive maintenance. Companies can use sensors to monitor their vehicles’ performance over time. Decline may indicate a tune-up is needed.
This allows construction companies to perform smaller repairs and avoid larger, more expensive procedures that are harder on the vehicles. With the help of smart construction equipment using IoT, companies stand to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on repairs and even replacement vehicles. IoT is easy to implement with clear positive benefits.
What About Driverless Construction Equipment?
Driverless construction equipment is among the more divisive innovations appearing in the industry. AI-powered machinery isn’t quite ready to go mainstream yet, and even when it is, it will take years to become an industry standard. The question is, should autonomous vehicles be the standard?
For some people, the initial response to driverless construction equipment is concern that it will remove jobs. If AI-powered vehicles were adopted throughout the industry, operators would inevitably have fewer jobs. However, it is important to remember that the sector has been facing a labor shortage for years, so a technology that can cover some unfilled positions might not be such a bad thing.
It is also worth noting that AI-powered construction vehicles are still in their infancy. A self-driving dump truck sparked interest in 2016 when designs were released without a cab. Similarly, in 2021, a Chinese construction project made headlines when a team of robotic road paving vehicles resurfaced the Nanjing-Shanghai Expressway, China’s busiest highway. Interestingly, Caterpillar’s self-driving equipment has reportedly hauled over 2 billion metric tons of material as of 2021.
Cases like these are still rare, though. Self-driving algorithms still have a long way to go. Experts believe technologies like radar could lead to improvements, but the reality is that fully driverless smart construction equipment is still years away, especially for mainstream adoption. Small airborne drones are gaining popularity in the industry, but they’re no competition for conventional fluid power heavy equipment. These vehicles are durable, reliable and powerful, and the industry knows exactly how to use and maintain them. IoT will likely become popular long before AI construction vehicles are commonplace.
Pros and Cons of Next-Gen Equipment
The question of whether or not the industry is prepared for next-gen smart construction equipment comes down to a few factors. Some are technical. Others have more to do with the pros and cons of these technologies, especially for driverless construction equipment.
There are plenty of clear pros for IoT. Connected construction vehicles can be easily monitored, resistant to theft, more fuel-efficient, and better optimized for top performance and effective maintenance. Similarly, AI could help fill critical labor shortages in the industry.
Adoption will be a difficult hurdle for these technologies to tackle, though. Equipment is expensive to rent, let alone to buy. Construction companies will be understandably reluctant to purchase new machinery when what they have is still working fine.
Affordability could also be a concern with smart AI equipment. The market is showing signs of adoption of IoT technology, but driverless construction equipment is a much bigger leap forward. Autonomous vehicles will be more expensive than conventional models, making it prohibitive for some companies to make the switch.
Along with AI and IoT, a third connected technology is on the rise in construction: electric vehicles. These are worth mentioning because EVs may mark a new generation of construction vehicles built with IoT and AI from the start. Several major manufacturers are investing in this tech, and pressure from the EPA and other organizations is helping speed development.
These new vehicles will run on clean energy and offer built-in smart features like IoT sensors. They will still operate using fluid power, but a diesel engine will no longer be required.
Interestingly, these vehicles may be easier to adopt than piecemeal new technologies. EV and clean energy government credits in some areas could significantly benefit many construction companies. Machinery that operates smoothly could certainly be an appealing upgrade worth the initial investment. Driverless construction vehicles will be a harder pill to swallow, but IoT adoption may act as a stepping stone, showing the industry the benefits of trying new technologies.
Advancing Construction Equipment
Smart and driverless construction equipment is coming to the industry, and, in some cases, it is already here. The sector needs to adapt and evolve to meet today’s challenges, including high housing and public infrastructure demand coupled with persistent labor shortages and a global shift toward clean energy.
Affordability and accessibility will be limiting factors for some time. Still, the construction industry is slowly taking steps toward phasing out conventional vehicles to be replaced by smart, energy-efficient, high-performing next-gen equipment.
Emily Newton is an industrial writer who specializes in covering how technology is disrupting industrial sectors. She’s also the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized where she covers innovations in industry, construction and more.