Digging the Future
When Shawn Swygman, GPS Manager at Elder Technology Group, mounted an initiative to bring the company to the forefront of the construction technology industry, no one imagined they could possibly become pet owners.
Not that many years later, Trimble/Boston Dynamics released its first GPS robot dog “Spot”. With the terrain getting tougher to climb and more need for as-builts, Swygman is looking into becoming a “pet owner”.
One of the most time and resource consuming jobs in site prep has always been mapping, that is, using imagery techniques to measure, analyze, and report progress on a project. It used to be done through survey and manual stake placement. More recently, a lot of site maps are done with drones, and as big of an improvement as they are, drones still come up short in some very difficult terrains.
Enter Spot. Swygman says that Spot can “topo anything that walks the path. Mud, grass, dirt…he can maneuver and dodge.” With the help of GPS and guidance systems, operators view his progress through the SpotCam, making its results available in real time.
Spot, however, is only one phase of a multi-pronged technology push that has put ETG in a place where they are not only learning from developers and manufacturers; they are acting in cooperation with them as field testers and advisers, supplying suggestions for improvements and further innovation.
Another tech boom in ETG’s arsenal is Trimble’s Works Manager. You can upload a new design on the Works Manager Cloud from the office and no matter where that machine is in the world it can be downloaded in seconds to the display in the machine. Making updates and new releases easier to get. That way machines are using the correct data on site and all by a click of a button by the operator. ETG can also view what machines are on site, and ensure that they are using the correct data.
To keep pushing the technology limits, ETG also uses Augmented Reality systems that view a site in 3D. By using Trimble software, they upload a site to another cloud-based server called “Trimble Connect”. Using Sitevision AR, ETG can check, map, and design site components. This gives ETG an advantage to show customers what the site will look, before dirt is even moved on site, “The pictures are so clear,” Swygman says, “that you feel like you are physically on the site.” AR can also be used in machines to show a clear picture of a ditch they are digging via the display on all Next Gen Caterpillar machines. In addition, by utilizing Horizontal Steering
Control on Earthworks machines, the operator can now run the equipment hands free. By selecting a line on a file the Earthworks platform recognizes that line based on RTK GPS. The machine will recognize that line while in automatics and follow that line until it ends, making the machine virtually autonomous and grading the area at the correct elevation. “We put technology to work, so can we move dirt faster and more accurately.” Swygman says.
ETG is aware that they’re ahead of the curve in these tech advancements, and that it takes time and money to get up to speed. Their aim is to push the boundaries of GPS technology and use it not only in their own equipment but intentionally involve subcontractors understanding that when more people are using the technology, the more efficient they can be on every site.
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