Komatsu in first step to the autonomous construction site

US chipmaker Nvidia is to team up with Komatsu, Japan’s largest maker of construction machinery, to create a generation of products with embedded artificial intelligence (AI) as a step toward unmanned equipment.

Chikashi Shike, president of Komatsu’s smart construction promotion division, said at the announcement on Wednesday: "We predict that construction sites will be unmanned in the future."

On Tuesday, Nvidia chief executive Jensen Huang commented: "Future machines will perceive their surroundings and be continuously alert, helping operators work more efficiently and safely."

Nvidia will supply AI chips that allow Komatsu machinery to "see" the site around them, and react automatically to developments as they take place. They will be complemented by drones equipped with similar graphics processors.

Chikashi Shike, left, celebrating Komatsu’s agreement with Skycatch in 2015 (Skycatch)

The alliance is the latest in a number of deals between technology companies as they prepare for the arrival of AI in the worlds of transport and construction.

Nvidia, which is best known for making graphics cards for computer games, has expanded into AI in recent years, with a particular emphasis on autonomous vehicles. In May it announced a deal to install its Nvidia Drive PX chip in Toyota’s self-driving cars; other deals have been done with BMW, Audi and Tesla.

Meanwhile, Komatsu has long been developing its AI-enabled machinery. Back in 2015 it teamed up with Skycatch, the San Francisco-based maker of drone imaging software, to develop ways of integrating drone images into its smart machinery.

Image: Komatsu is the second largest construction equipment makes after Caterpillar (Komatsu)

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  1. As AI replaces employees/workers and the economy changes potentially to more a decentralised model, for whom will these machines be creating the infrastructure for?

    Will we need today’s vision of a city? When you can work or as increasingly looks, not work from home? Will society/the economy need mass transit systems as the workforce shrinks?

    Will large scale office developments be required? When businesses require fewer and fewer people to run.

    The desired outcomes may not ever materialise unless the outcomes desired are not what is being advertised?

    A city or a wider economy cannot exist without people spending/producing and functioning inside it?

    Curious and curiouser. We’ll all find out….probably far too late!!

  2. As a construction professional, I find this an interesting discussion. The complexities, diversity and vagaries of construction work are quite unique. So construction sites will certainly test the frontiers of automation and incorporation of AI in ways that manufacturing and other industries never would. So the comment that construction sites in the future will be unmanned seems well beyond belief, but I welcome those who aspire to this outcome. But I also agree with Stephen’s comment above that an economy and a society can not operate without people doing what they do.

    If driver-less cars will require dedicated lanes on roads, so that they will not be impacted by driver operated cars, then construction sites will make this seem like an insignificant challenge.

    There is already development happening with brick-laying robots, and 3D printers that can produce curved concrete walls, but the real changes for construction in the future, I believe, will come through these technologies being used to pre-fabricate more building components, modules, and even large sections of buildings off-site, thereby reducing labour numbers and construction times, rather than replacing any human participation on site.

    Let’s see how it goes ……

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