The Impact of Telematics

 OP CIVILBy Willy Schlacks

Right now, it’s easy to find examples of how automated machinery and robots have made their mark in industries like manufacturing and automotive. Companies like Ford and Uber are leading the development of self-driving cars and robots are moving manufacturing forward by performing jobs that require a certain level of agility. And while it’s easy to call on examples of how automation is moving these industries forward, it’s much harder to see how automation will impact construction equipment.

But telematics may soon change that.

Through data aggregation and predictive analytics, telematics could soon bring the automation of construction equipment full scale. Here’s a look at the future of automation within the construction industry and how these new technologies might impact the owners, contractors, equipment manufacturers and operators.

Telematics Today

It’s easy to see why more than four out of 10 business owners, fleet operators and general managers currently use a telematics solution to track their fleets. Telematics solutions streamline fleet operations and management into a single platform and offer a wide range of benefits including improved productivity, reduced fuel costs, in-depth monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Perhaps even more importantly, telematics delivers insights that will help drive automation within construction fleets. Tracking and aggregating heavy equipment and machine data enables technologies like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to automate operations for fleet managers.

There’s just one problem – the foundation for automation isn’t quite up to par. Predictions for large-scale automation in construction say it still lies 10-plus years out. Although telematics technologies may be maturing, the data consumption from machines must be increased to a much higher resolution to lay the groundwork for early steps of automation.

Building Blocks

The first place that automation will take hold is in controlled environments such as mining, agriculture and off-highway construction vehicles. We’ll see automation in this segment grow significantly over the next decade due to the lack of environmental factors or physical barriers capable of disrupting workflow.

Unlike building construction sites, controlled work environments that follow set procedures in definitive work zones make it easier for automated equipment to operate without the risk of running into new challenges along the way. For example, pouring concrete and steamrolling are very linear functions compared to what’s required to build 100-foot skyscraper or over-water bridges. We’re already seeing this play out as companies like Construction Robotics are creating machines like the robotic bricklayer.  

For other segments of construction, full automation will take longer to flourish, because there are simply too many unpredictable elements. Lack of project structure coupled with constant changes make for an environment that’s not naturally conducive to artificial intelligence and automation. While it’s not farfetched to think that robots may one day be able to create elements and structures within a confined area, humans will continue to play a vital role in controlling job site equipment until AI is capable of reacting to changing environments as fast as humans do.

Beyond Automation

While automation is expected to replace an estimated 5.1 million jobs in the next five years, AI, machine-learning and robotics advancements will bring vast improvements such as safety, security and higher efficiency on the job site.

Difficult and often risky tasks once reserved for human construction workers can now be performed by machines that are either managed remotely or operate entirely on their own. Not to mention the increased safety and security automation brings to the job site, where crew members can stay out of harm's way. One such example of telematics technology currently in action is NFC connectivity that prevents crashes between pieces of machinery by sending out an alert or shutting down an engine.

Additionally, demand for a more efficient building process will not only help grow profits across job sites, but also improve project timelines and opportunities for new construction projects. And better yet, construction equipment could one day slow down or speed up completion of a project through automated digging, especially as human workers head home for the day.

Although automation is in its beginning stages within the construction industry, telematics will continue to lay the foundation for automated equipment and machinery. We’re already seeing telematics create safer work environments, smarter job sites and drive more efficiency across the industry. And as we continue to harness and leverage this data we can expect even great innovations and progress toward automation in the future.

Willy Schlacks is president and co-founder of EquipmentShare.

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