There’s been a lot of talk about getting autonomous construction equipment into the field, but few have been willing to use operatorless heavy iron on real sites. That’s where start-up Built Robotics sees opportunity, and now a deal with Sunstate Equipment promises to bring its autonomous earthmovers into the rental equipment stream.
“The customers who can make the biggest use of our technology are those using heavy equipment for earthmoving,” says Noah Ready-Campbell, CEO of Built Robotics. “They’re moving a lot of yardage, and we can get them speed improvements that add up.”
Built Robotics’ autonomous equipment uses an onboard computer to guide a dozer or excavator by LIDAR and GPS to move earth to meet a preset model. A prototype was first deployed on skid-steer loaders (ENR 11/6/17 p. 87), but Ready-Campbell says larger equipment was always the real target.
Built Robotics’ machine controls are designed to be added onto existing equipment, tying in through electrohydraulic systems found on more recent models. “We can also take old-school pilot hydraulic systems, too,” says Ready-Campbell. “We’re OEM agnostic since many customers operate mixed fleets.”
The company has worked with contractors on site work for residential and infrastructure projects, but wind and solar power have also been popular, given the remote locations and the straightforward, repetitious earthmoving involved.
The agreement with Phoenix-based Sunstate will see Built Robotics’ equipment in rental locations later this year, with training and oversight included. Sunstate, one of the largest rental firms in the U.S., is a subsidiary of Japan-based Sumitomo Corp., which is also an investor in Built Robotics. Ready-Campbell says Built Robotics has booked more than $100 million in committed business, but moving from direct sales is the next step.
One customer is Concord, Calif.-based Independent Construction Co., which works in heavy civil and grading. It used Built Robotics-equipped dozers to finish housing pads in a residential development. “Built’s autonomous dozer is the real deal, and we’ve had it finish-grade hundreds of pads so far,” says Eric McCosker, project manager at Independent Construction. “Given the shortage of skilled hands in our area, that’s added production we’ve needed.”
McCosker sees the machines as a way to better use skilled labor. “As the technology rolls out to more equipment, we can see it being a force multiplier for our team, where our skilled operators take on the hardest tasks and the autonomous equipment does the more mundane work,” he says.