This Company Just Added Auto-Pilot to Their Bulldozers | Smart News | Smithsonian

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This Company Just Added Auto-Pilot to Their Bulldozers

Construction equipment operators have to go through apprenticeships and training to learn to maneuver the machines. But one company thinks that's all too hard

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Bulldozers, backhoes and other construction equipment can be hard to drive. There are all sorts of levers and knobs and buttons to push. Construction equipment operators have to go through apprenticeships and training to learn to maneuver the machines. But one company thinks that’s all too hard. They’re adding auto-pilot to bulldozers to encourage rookies to climb on board and drive these massive (and destructive) machines.

James R. Hagerty of the Wall Street Journal writes that Komatsu, a Japanese company, and its American rivals Caterpillar and Deere are all trying to make bulldozers easier to operate because there’s a lack of skilled drivers. “Everybody is trying to make these machines easier to operate because it’s harder and harder to find people” with the required skills, Frank Manfredi, an industry consultant, told the WSJ.

Hagerty attempted to drive the bulldozer himself, to mixed results:

“That’s really enough to get you going,” Mr. Anetsberger said after explaining my initial task: lower the elevation of a bowling-lane-sized plot by precisely 12 inches. Striving to appear calm and confident, I twisted the throttle dial to maximum power, eased my right foot off the brake, lowered my blade and lurched forward.

Within seconds, I came to an abrupt halt. As the 168-horsepower engine strained, the blade was jammed into the earth. The machine couldn’t go forward, but the tracks were still spinning. The front end of my dozer began rising ominously off the ground, tilting me backward.

But Komatsu believes that this new “machine-controlled” system will allow people to learn to drive the bulldozers far faster and be more precise with their bulldozing. And if you’re interested in driving a bulldozer but can’t convince Komatsu to let you into one of their fancy new ones, you can always head to Vegas.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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