Construction is a dangerous job plagued by safety hazards, but the team behind DriveRobitics is aiming to make the construction site a safer place. DriveRobotics is an exciting new technology that allows Bobcat compact excavators to be used as remotely controlled tools that are operated from a distance. The aim is increased safety, versatility, and productivity during commercial construction or demolition applications.
“Our system removes the operator from the danger of falling debris, dust and the constant hammer vibration encountered during building demolition,” said Dan Deguire, director of engineering and product development for QinetiQ North America’s Unmanned Systems. “DriveRobotics [also] eliminates the need for a spotter, which lowers cost and increases safety at roadside construction sites.”
The upgrade kit for the Bobcat® E35 Compact Excavators can be installed on both new and existing fleets. Operators can now operate the excavator from within the cab, or from a strategic nearby location.
QinetiQ North America, the company behind the new world-class technology, has more than 50 years of experience providing innovative product solutions to its defense, security, transportation, and commercial customers.
QinetiQ specializes in unmanned robots, like the Talon and Dragon Runner ground robots, that are used in a variety of situations including first responder, military, and commercial applications. The company has over 25 years of experience in developing unmanned vehicles and tools. QinetiQ engineers decided to apply what they had learned while collaborating to adapt a skid steer for the U.S. military and create a useful commercial product.
“We became knowledgeable about large, unmanned ground vehicles and started looking at how we could leverage this technology to develop a similar product specifically to benefit the commercial market,” said Jon Hastie, principal engineer for QinetiQ North America. “Like its military predecessor, the DriveRobotics product is about making the operation of the machine safer.”
The collaboration between DriveRobotics and Bobcat Corporation debuted at the World of Concrete Convention in 2015.
“Joint development of this system has been a good partnership,” said Laura Ness Owens of Bobcat Company. “Having remote-control capabilities enables our customers to use machines in applications that aren’t otherwise possible, or that become easier without utilizing an operator.”
Designed for both manned and unmanned operation, DriveRobotics adapted compact excavators can also be used to complete preprogramed routines using the standard Bobcat attachments. This expanded capability has numerous advantages:
Robotic operation gets workers out of the danger zone– improving workplace safety and security. According to the Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) more than 16% of construction worker deaths in 2014 were the result of electrocution or being struck by an object. These preventable deaths, part of the “Fatal Four,” can be greatly reduced using a DriveRobotics unmanned construction tool.
Utilizing the technology can distance an operator from hazardous environments that include; traffic next to roadside construction, falling objects, dangerous utilities, and hazardous material clean up or asbestos abatement efforts. Reducing the number of personnel in the danger zone puts fewer workers at risk – reducing workplace injuries and fatalities.
“Robotics are ideally suited for jobs that are dull, dirty or dangerous – the type of jobs that are unpleasant or hazardous for a person to do,” Hastie said. “When I take a DriveRobotics system to a job site, users tell me about another application where the technology is useful. So I try not to limit attributing the product’s benefits to only one market. This is a solution where you can get an operator out of the cab, make him safer, more comfortable, more efficient and happier.”
Lowered Costs and Increased Productivity
The modified equipment can be changed from manned to unmanned in seconds, which allows for jobs to be completed faster and more safely. When personnel are removed from the a danger zone this technology also helps reduce Personal Productive Equipment (PPE) costs associated with falling object protection compliance as a result of ongoing overhead work. It also reduces the need for spotters, freeing up more worker time and attention to other projects.
DriveRobotics enabled Bobcat Excavators are designed to work with all standard Bobcat parts and attachments. This ensures that the machine requires less down time for service.
The system requires only a flip of a switch to change from manned to unmanned and vice versa. Operators can choose to control the Bobcat using the standard in-cab controls or operate the equipment remotely. While operating the compact excavator from a distance, the remote control displays all the same information a driver would normally see on the dashboard, including fuel level, RPM, engine error codes, and more.
The robotic adaptation kit is compatible with both new and used E35 Bobcat Compact Excavators. It also takes only about six hours for one person to install, a process that includes fully testing the system.
“We’re not cutting wires, we’re not tapping the harness, we’re not harming anything,” Hastie said. “It’s plug and play. If a dealer can change a wire harness and change a hydraulic hose, they can install the DriveRobotics kit with ease.”
The DriveRobotic system also accommodates multiple radio frequencies. This ensures the technology is well matched to the needs of all locations and environments. In the event that radio frequency options are unavailable, such as blasting sites and hospitals, a hard-wired tether option can be used.
The DriveRobotics system for Bobcat Compact Excavators is a technological leap that’s making jobsites safer and more efficient for workers and companies. By removing personnel from the danger zone, robotic construction equipment puts less workers at risk of injury while maintaining control of the equipment. It’s exciting to see what other adaptations will come from QinetiQ next.