Large construction projects bring their own unique safety and time-sensitive operational challenges. For these reasons and others, the world’s biggest construction equipment companies are investing millions of dollars in developing smarter and autonomous equipment.

Caterpillar is one such company heavily involved in research to bring more intelligent equipment to construction and mining. It is also heavily invested in developing autonomous equipment, Turf magazine learned in a recent visit to Caterpillar’s training and learning center near Peoria, Illinois.

Read more: Caterpillar Expert: Efficiency is a Game of Inches

In the fall, Caterpillar unveiled its remote-controlled RemoteTask system for Cat D series skid-steer, multiterrain and compact track loaders. Caterpillar has an exclusive marketing agreement with TORC Robotics, Blacksburg, Virginia, to distribute and support RemoteTask through Cat dealers, says Jeff Griffith, senior market professional for Caterpillar. The RemoteTask system enables operators to precisely control the compact construction equipment from outside the cab—as far away as 1,000 feet, and at a safe distance from potentially hazardous tasks and environments. Griffith says the system can be integrated into 16 models of Cat D series skid-steer, multiterrain and compact track loaders and can control more than 200 work tools.

Other manufacturers are just as determined to push the technology envelope to design “intelligence” into their big work equipment.

JCB, based in England but with a sizable manufacturing plant in Savannah, Georgia, has been manufacturing JCB Robot skid-steers loaders and wheel loaders for more than a decade. In fact, it manufactured its first robot skid steer in 1993.

Also, Tokyo-based Komatsu unveiled its Smart Construction system in January 2015. The system relies on drones, bulldozers and excavators to push and pick up dirt and rocks without anyone operating the machines. Only one or two humans need to be on-site to take over in the event that something goes wrong, according to Komatsu.

Competitive pressures in construction industries, concerns about worker safety and the shrinking availability of skilled operators are driving the development of large robotic production equipment.

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