In Brief
New intelligence systems and perception technologies are allowing trucks to navigate around equipment by themselves and letting machine operators steer entire fleets from the safety of their offices.

Sci-Fi Visions

Have you ever wanted to drive a bulldozer? What about a bulldozer that’s miles away? What about a fleet of bulldozers that are all 3000 miles (4800 km) away? It sounds like something from a far off, sci-fi future, but in truth, people are already doing this—and if you went to the 2017 Edison Awards, you could have as well.

Truck Drivers Can Now Control A Fleet of Vehicles From Over 3000 Miles Away
Futurism’s Sarah Marquart driving a bulldozer that’s over 1,000 miles away.

At the Awards, attendees had a chance to see a demonstration of Caterpillar’s (CAT) driverless technologies—technologies that are already saving lives.

As Tazio Grivetti, the Innovation Viability Manager at Caterpillar Inc., notes, mining is sometimes a dangerous business, with drivers being forced to navigate up and down steep and precariously thin inclines. If they aren’t navigating inclines, then drivers are often tasked with maneuvering enormous vehicles around other mining equipment, which, of course, require operators of their own.

To that end, the company has installed a host of advanced intelligence tech in their vehicles in order to save lives.

For example, they are using onboard artificial intelligence systems to pull drivers out of the (rather dangerous) driver’s seat, sophisticated perception technologies to help vehicles work safely around people and other equipment, and other operator-assist tech that control various vehicle functions in order to boost both productivity and safety.

Ultimately, the semi-autonomous features allow operators to control vehicles from the comfort of their office, and the perception technologies installed on the equipment serve as a kind of “kill switch” that stops vehicles from hitting other machinery (or people).

The Future of Autonomy

It costs a little extra to add these technologies to a vehicle, but it’s impossible to put a price tag on a human life. Grivetti succinctly summarizes the main point, asserting, “safety is our number one priority.” And he continues by noting that CAT operators are already controlling fleets of three dozers from over 3000 miles away.

Sound impressive? This is just the beginning.

The Autonomous Revolution: What Else is Going Driverless? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Grivetti states that the tech isn’t limited to just a few thousand miles, but that it works equally well from any part of the world. As a result, an individual could be in an office in one country and be operating a small fleet that’s literally on the other side of the world.

So the next time that someone tells you that autonomous vehicles will be the future of driving, think again. That “future” actually arrived some time ago. As the company notes, “While automakers and tech companies plan for a future that includes self-driving cars, Caterpillar is already there.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify points made by Grivetti about safety.