Contractors Should Not Fear Autonomous Construction Equipment

Research shows autonomous construction equipment will not replace many industry jobs.
By Chaz Vollmer
November 7, 2022

The biggest worry about the implementation of autonomous equipment is job security. Will these automatic vehicles or processes will take humans out of the picture? Addressing the current industry-wide labor shortages with autonomous operations undeniably appears to be a valid solution. Many current high-tech construction vehicles are already semi-autonomous, controlled by workers to facilitate safe operation and task completion.

One of the most notable switches in business operation as a recent trend of digitalization is autonomous machines. Although this technology is cutting-edge and seemingly prosperous, many construction operation owners are still uninformed about the leading benefits and common misconceptions of this innovative technology. Let’s explore why contractors shouldn’t fear autonomous equipment.

The rise of autonomous equipment

Machines that work independently without the need for a human operator are considered autonomous. They use sensors and AI software to navigate the terrain and complete tasks such as moving earth or transporting resources from point A to point B on site.

The idea of keeping operators from difficult-to-reach places is highlighted in its benefits—keeping operator safety high is a must for businesses. A good example of this is the inherently dangerous tasks of underground construction, which can be completed by remote control excavators and trenchers. Automating these activities allows for a safer and more efficient approach to construction without needing a human being to be physically present underground.

There are also several cost reduction benefits for business in addition to operator safety. Through technology such as geofencing, fleet owners are seeing more efficient fuel consumption and operations as well as intelligent vehicle routing. Over time, contractors can save money on diesel—or, if they choose the electric vehicle direction, contractors won’t need to spend on fuel at all!

The use of autonomous equipment also increases operational productivity by removing opportunities for potential human error in many situations. Plus, improved data reporting since logging is no longer a manual function. With real-time monitoring, machines can perform more accurately and efficiently—translating into the completion of projects ahead of time, so contractors get paid sooner with contracted bonuses.

But the concern still remains: What will happen to equipment operator jobs?

Will autonomous vehicles take jobs?

Many believe this new technological trend will end up killing jobs in the industry, especially those in operator positions. The fear is understandable, as many business owners are likely to focus on operational efficiency and financial gain at the expense of a few blue-collared jobs. But what if this just might not be the case and the number of jobs that will be replaced is little to none?

Fortunately, studies have shown that autonomous vehicles have the potential to widely impact society by creating higher-paying jobs instead of taking them away. Over the next few decades, self-driving cars and construction vehicles are only projected to negatively factor into unemployment by a mere 0.06% to 0.13%, according to a 2018 report by Securing America’s Future Energy. This is mainly because many traditional equipment-handling jobs will be balanced with new and innovative positions related to technology.

A great example of these technological positions includes semi-autonomous vehicles. Many autonomous vehicles don’t have complete self-driving capabilities and still require operation or remote control. The new CAT Command removes operators from hazardous jobsite conditions and increases productivity by putting drivers behind a digital remote-control tool. As a top OEM, Caterpillar helps keep jobs afloat while pushing the industry in an innovative, technological course.

While the future is always volatile, rest assured equipment operating jobs won’t be lost. Most OEMs take their customers, construction professionals, into consideration when creating new equipment. Caterpillar, John Deere, Komatsu and Hitachi are just a few that uphold the livelihood of the industry.

The future of technology and digital transformation

The days of pen-and-paper are nearly over, and although this can be hard for some to give up, the new age of digitalization is much, much easier—and more efficient. This revolution impacts lives on and off the jobsite; just imagine the ease of buying groceries from a phone, and mobile banking could somehow transfer to tasks on the job. That same convenience can streamline engine analytics, maintenance request and scheduling, and more. Everything is now forecasted and data-driven, where rapid advancement of readily available technology keeps businesses aligned with incredible opportunities for growth and expansion. And although this big change seems a bit alarming, it is being backed by companies that value their customers: the construction professional.

Therefore, in the world of heavy-duty equipment and fleet management, where the market is changing every year, keeping with the most recent and effective technology is so beneficial. Digital transformation isn’t just about being competitive—it is a demand for success in the 21st century. With autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles emerging within the construction industry, fleet owners are looking to stay competitive and invest in technology. And with research showing that autonomy won’t replace many jobs at all, your position is safe and sound for years to come.

We suggest embracing newly innovated OEM vehicles and learning the digital technology that comes with them. The faster contractors gain knowledge about machinery like semi-autonomous wheel loaders, the more beneficial this technology can be to stay ahead of the game.

by Chaz Vollmer
Chaz Vollmer is an expert in data-driven technologies with over a decade experience in product management and digital application design. As Product Owner at Senzit, he leads the user experience program and predictive analytics innovation team focus on reducing HD equipment downtime.

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