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Autonomous Vehicles May Become More Common At Construction Sites Than On Roads

by Mary Lee

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- As companies continue to test autonomous vehicles for public roadways, other industries are already taking advantage of specialized, self-driving vehicles.

San Francisco-based Built Robotics is among the first to roll out autonomous construction vehicles at construction sites. The company has three track loaders that can dig, move and grade materials all on their own.

"I think you're going to see autonomous equipment on construction sites before you're going to see self-driving cars on public roads," said Built Robotics CEO Noah Ready-Campbell. The former Google product manager studied software engineering and said he got his inspiration for Built Robotics from his father.

"I got into this because my dad was a contractor. When I was a kid I'd work for him. A lot of hot summer days early mornings and hated it pretty much," said Ready-Campbell. "I remember telling him I want to build a robot to do my job."

The machines have sensors that mount to the roof along with special software, acting like the brains of the equipment. From the design plan to the coordinates, you can program it to do whatever you want.

Ready-Campbell says it's also safer than autonomous cars on public roads. The machine will automatically shut off if a person or anything out of the ordinary is detected. A trained supervisor for the robot is supposed to keep an eye on it at all times.

The machines have already done about half a dozen projects in just the last six months.

"There's just this huge demand for more housing here in the Bay Area and there's also a labor shortage," said Ready Campbell."So every contractor we have talk to is actually seeing more work out there than they are able to accomplish because I don't have a team to do it."

The next thing for Built Robotics will be autonomous bulldozers. Other companies using self-driving vehicles are Japan-based construction giant Komatsu and its U.S. competitor Caterpillar, which employ huge, autonomous trucks to haul material in mining and construction. Meanwhile, companies such as Case IH and New Holland have been making an impact in the farming industry for years with autonomous tractors that can plant, harvest and maintain crops.

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