UAS technology improves Caterpillar customers’ productivity

By Patrick C. Miller | January 28, 2016

Heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. is joining with Redbird—a done analytics company—to provide its customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa with the capability to use unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in mining and construction projects.

With offices in Paris and San Francisco, Redbird is a team of data scientists, software engineers, developers, civil engineers and construction experts who specialize in turning drone data into actionable intelligence.

Tom Bucklar, Caterpillar’s innovation and digital manager, said the agreement between the two firms evolved after customers began asking about using UAS to improve efficiency and productivity. Given Caterpillar’s 15 years of experience with 3D modeled machine control and guidance, he said taking the technology to the air was a natural step.

“The development of drones is something we’ve had our eye on because it takes a lot of the manual processes for our customers and automates them,” Bucklar explained. “It also can help them get information a lot faster to make decisions faster, whether they’re in a mine site, a quarry or a construction site.”

Redbird's role is in the acquisition and analysis of aerial data collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. The company can both collect drone data and provide analysis using cloud-based, proprietary algorithms.

Emmanuel de Maistre, Redbird CEO, said that data analytics are at the heart of a new phase in UAS applications.

“Our solutions have been developed with leading construction companies and quarry operators for the past two years, helping them extract the real value out of drone data,” he said.

Discussions between Caterpillar and Redbird about how they could work together led to the current collaboration agreement.

“If a customer needs some type of a drone service, then they can go to their Cat dealer and their Cat dealer can bring Redbird into the deal,” Bucklar explained.

Bucklar said that with Caterpillar’s machine control and guidance systems, a geospatial 3D model of a worksite is downloaded into the ground-based machine. Since the mid-90s, the company has leveraged 3D data and models as a way to improve efficiency and productivity.

“The opportunities are really endless when you start to think about how real-time 3D modeling of the actual jobsite can intersect with what our machines can do,” he said.

The UAS data can be used to examine the condition of haul roads, determine how much dirt was transported from one location to another and the amount of material contained in a stockpile.

“Contractors and quarry managers can understand their production and understand their productivity faster and more cost effectively than they can with traditional survey methods,” Bucklar said. “The haul road maintenance is a big deal for fuel and wear-and-tear on the equipment. It’s a nice synergy.”


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