Ericsson's Connected Digger Technology Could Revolutionize Construction Projects
Isil Yalcin, president of Ericsson North East Africa recently demonstrated what the company calls ‘Connected Digger’ technology. Through WebRTC and real-time video, this technology can be used in construction projects like the recent New Suez Canal expansion. If the technology was widely adopted by the construction industry, it would dramatically change how projects operate.
The Suez Canal in its current form dates back to 1869. In August 2014, an expansion project designed to increase traffic flow began. Over 250 million cubic meters of earth was dredged, resulting in the addition of a 35 km canal and the deepening of a 37 km stretch of the original infrastructure. The project was completed on schedule earlier this week.
One of the first demonstrations of Connected Digger was at the 2014 Mobile World Congress (MWC). Cristian Norlin donned some virtual reality goggles and with a joystick, was able to maneuver a scaled-down excavator. This same technology was scaled up a year later at the 2015 MWC, where attendees could manipulate full-scale diggers located outside the building where the event was held and in Sweden.
The key to making remote excavation work is to give the operator an experience as close to reality as possible. This is done through 3D video, high quality audio, and a low-latency connection that allows the machine to respond within 50 milliseconds after the operator provides control input.
Ericsson has demonstrated some really neat technology here with Connected Digger, but is it useful to anyone?
In a word, yes. Remote excavation would be extremely useful at sites inaccessible to humans, like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and remains highly radioactive. It could also be used to operate devices in adverse weather conditions unsafe for humans.
The technology would also eliminate some of the problems that come with requiring on-site workers. Many construction workers are not willing to travel to distant sites to work on projects, so finding workers can be a challenge. Those that are willing to work at distant sites are often reimbursed for their travel and housing costs. Many of these costs can be eliminated with Connected Digger.
As exciting as this technology is, it probably will not become a reality until 5G technology becomes available a few years from now. According to a March 2015 CNET article by Roger Cheng, the Connected Digger taxes current network infrastructure and would be unreliable if widely used today. It seems inevitable that the technology would be used in some capacity eventually, however. The potential applications and cost-saving benefits are too great for it not to happen.
Edited by Dominick Sorrentino