The International Union of Operating Engineers has plenty of big toys at its training center in Crosby, Texas, but one that began rolling across the 265-acre campus last week is an oddity. The modified Caterpillar 336 excavator can use onboard computers and sensors to perform by itself some of the work the center trains human operators to do, such as digging trenches for gas pipelines or wind turbine foundations.
The IUOE’s new robotic excavator is the result of an unusual partnership with Built Robotics, a San Francisco startup that sells a box that can enable a backhoe or bulldozer to pilot itself for some tasks. It contains a high-powered computer, motion and angle sensors, and a laser scanner called a lidar commonly used in self-driving cars.
Original Article: Construction Workers Embrace Robots Doing Replacing Their Jobs
Let’s start by noting that I love this article, it’s a piece of journalism that really emphasizes how adaptable our industry is. It illustrates that older industries are able to change and adopt new technologies without major impact.
The article posted on Wired focueses the union for Operating Engineers in the United States and how it has successfully promoted new technology. Wired writes that the union has adopted and welcomed new robotic technologies such as robotic excavators and has been teaching and training workers on how to use them.
Construction technology is here to stay and many trades are fearful that it will result in job loss. The operating engineers have welcomed it and as a result found that it has resulted in no job loss.
Already Busy Enough in Construction
Many of the construction unions are already busy enough with work to ensure everyone is employed. The example used in this blog post is that a robotic excavator can perform more monotonous tasks such as trench excavation where the operator can perform more high risk tasks.
This results in people avoiding activities they don’t enjoy, and increases productivity on the job site. Many of the robotic activities still require human supervision meaning no net job loss. To top it off, if no operator is in the cab the activity is inherently more safe then if an operator is present.
But where does this leave unions and work forces that aren’t willing to adopt new construction technology?
That’s a challenging question and one that may not be answerable at this time. If I was to guess and look ahead ten years I believe it would mean things remain unchanged. Beyond that though the industry as a whole needs to change. Capital is beginning to flow in to large construction technology firms, and, as a result workers and unions may not be able to avoid new construction technology.
Does your local union train new workers in construction technology and how is your company embracing it?