One job a robot will never replace ...

... at least not in my lifetime.

Today I've been watching an artist at work: a backhoe operator. The vacant property across the street from my house is being developed. As part of this project, the development company is providing utility hook-ups to the lots they plan to sell and is extending the cross street down the hill to one of the lower lots. For the past few weeks, the main job has been to expand the sewer line capacity for the five extra lots before the street extension is developed. Today, that effort revved into high gear, with some major trenching, pipe-laying, and refilling taking place.

The backhoe operator is amazing. First, he piled the topsoil on one side of the trench he dug and the subsoil on the other. Now, once the new pipe has been laid, he's very gingerly sprinkling the subsoil on top of it, avoiding the workers in the trench who make sure the soil gets spread under the pipe to support it. This is with a machine with countless hydraulic levers and that must weigh in the scores of tons! It's huge!

Here's a photo taken from my living-room window.

trenching.jpg

After watching this operation for awhile, the notion of roboticizing it naturally occurred to me. But, frankly, this makes the design of self-driving cars look simple. I think the job prospects of good human backhoe operators will remain secure for decades to come.

-Phil
752 x 523 - 82K
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Comments

  • 11 Comments sorted by Date Added Votes
  • Having operated these and other earth moving vehicles in a previous life, i sort of felt the same way.

    However:

    https://asirobots.com/mining/excavator/

    zdnet.com/article/autonomous-construction-equipment-is-here/
  • Robots work well with highly repetitive tasks in constrained environments. So given all the variables involved, I think you are right.
  • But did you ask to drive it, Phil?

    Ken Gracey
  • Backhoe? Nah, I was told by a fellow who ran the business who dug out the foundation of my house (in a previous life.) that was an excavator. A backhoe is a strange looking bucket rig bolted onto the back end of a payloader. Of course you'd be surprised. Construction machinery have terms that are almost as strange as the terms we use for our gear.
  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 21,403
    edited November 21 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Ken Gracey wrote:
    But did you ask to drive it, Phil?
    The street sign still stands, no contractors' trucks have yet been damaged, and the porta-potty is still upright.

    So ... no. :)

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Ken Gracey wrote: »
    But did you ask to drive it, Phil?

    Ken Gracey

    Sorry, but inline with what Buck R. mentioned, you operate one of these, not drive it. ;)

    @Phil
    Although, considering where they are digging and the awesome view you have, they are not building anything that will obstruct your view of the water are they?

    As far as Robots replacing human operators of this type of Heavy Equipment, it is becoming harder to find skilled operators so companies such as CAT and Hitachi are looking at more autonomous options to work these vehicles. They already have this working with the Autonomous Haulage Vehicles (Large Dump Trucks) and others will follow. Sad though.
  • JonM wrote:
    Although, considering where they are digging and the awesome view you have, they are not building anything that will obstruct your view of the water are they?
    Unless, they plant trees along the new street, no. In point of fact, they created the view I have now. Until a month or so ago, that view was blocked by large holly trees that I'd been plotting to poison for more than 30 years!

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • This is weird ... or AI run amok. I know that cross-site advertising is a thing. But what was it about this thread that caused this ad to appear on politico.com?

    Screen%20Shot%202017-11-21%20at%204.47.34%20PM.png

    Spooky!

    -Phil
    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • The autonomous Cats are heading to your house right now!
    Whit+

    "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney
  • @PhiPi

    I wouldn't count on that kind of job security. I recall seeing a video of an automated ditch digger a couple of years back. It followed the beam from a laser level and dug a perfectly straight trench with the exact slope required.
    In science there is no authority. There is only experiment.
    Life is unpredictable. Eat dessert first.
  • It's not really a matter of if the technology exists, but more a matter of what ditch worker is going to risk his/her life with a robot. I've done ditch work in the past and I love robotics, I don't love them enough to trust them with my life. I've used remote controlled packers, trench roller, in dangerous locations, sides of mountains, but that is the extent of how far it will go.
Sign In or Register to comment.