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Drone-Guided Robot Bulldozers Being Used In Japan To Combat Construction Labor Shortage

14 October 2015, 2:26 pm EDT By Mark Lelinwalla Tech Times
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A story last month about Volvo developing a robotic trash worker to assist with garbage truck pickup sounded futuristic enough.

But as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, a different story about one of the world's largest construction companies new practice is taking futuristic to a whole other level. The Verge is reporting that Komatsu, the world's second biggest construction company, is combatting labor shortage by introducing Smart Construction.

The system utilizes a fleet of drones to guide robotic bulldozers to move dirt and lift rocks without a human driving them. According to The Verge, the way the system works is the drones map out the area in 3D, providing real-time data updates to track the amount of soil and cement being moved around the construction site.

Komatsu reportely invested an additional $25 million in a funding round for Skycatch, the Silicon Valley-based company that builds the drones for the project. Komatsu could use the drones combined with the self-driving bulldozers and a team of remote operators to independently-contract construction jobs in the future.

Komatsu had been trying out driverless bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks before also involving drones. In addition to being tech-forward, the move is also time saving.

"With the former, traditional method, it takes about two weeks, on average, to survey a certain piece of land," Kenishi Nishihara, a project manager for Komatsu's Smart Construction division, told The Verge. "Meanwhile with Skycatch it can be completely down within one day, or even 30 minutes."

Skycatch CEO Christian Sanz says the startup would love to do similar business in the United States, but there are too many regulations to clear.

"The regulations in the United States make it difficult to operate in a fully autonomous manner, and so that makes it tough to get the full value out of drones," Sanz told The Verge. "In Japan, there is a clear recognition, and appreciation, of the work these drones can do. In other places, people are still cautious about collaborating with robots to do jobs that were typically handled by humans."

Is this the future of construction as we know it?

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