Komatsu says its drone-powered automated equipment service eliminates 20-30% margin of error in soil volumes

Updated Sep 12, 2021

Much like here in the U.S., Japan is experiencing a severe lack of skilled construction and craft workers. And right now, that shortage is only being amplified as Japan is in the middle of several stadium construction projects as the country readies to host the 2020 Olympics.

Which is why the country is really hoping Komatsu’s new Smart Construction service, which seeks to automate pre-foundation work on jobsites by combining drones and smart heavy equipment, actually works.

The service was revealed in January, but Komatsu and Skycatch, the manufacturer of the drones being used, recently revealed a bit more information on the service in the new video below.

Smart Construction pairs Skycatch drones with Komatsu machines equipped with intelligent Machine Control technology. While iMC currently offers operators semi-automatic control on a range of dozers and at least one excavator, Smart Construction seeks to remove the operator almost completely from the equation.

And instead of selling these machines to customers, Smart Construction instead leases the machines and drones to customers and handles their operation.

“Through this connectivity, our objective is to optimize the entire construction process from beginning to end,” says Ryoichi Togashi, the chief project manager in Komatsu’s office of the CTO, in the new Skycatch video.

Using the drones, Smart Construction performs an initial terrain survey which is compiled into 3D data. That data is sent along to the iMC-equipped machines wirelessly, giving the machines all the information they need to accurately prepare the site.

“We provide customers with extremely accurate terrain survey data,” says Kenichi Nishihara, a Smart Construction project manager. “And the customers provide a 2D completion plan. We connect the two. … If customers want to make changes during the process, our support center assists and sends update information to the (machines).”

In January, Komatsu told the Wall Street Journal that the machines would move on pre-programmed routes, taking humans out of the cab and leaving them to program the routes, initiate work, monitor their progress and hang around in case of an emergency in order to take the controls.

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Part of the optimization Togashi was talking about is Smart Construction’s goal of eliminating the “20-30 percent margin of error in soil volume” Komatsu says is the result of human-conducted terrain surveys.

Plus, a terrain survey can be completed in one day—or as little as 30 minutes—with the drones, compared to up to two weeks using traditional methods, Komatsu says.

Komatsu hasn’t released any case studies or customer testimonials, so we’ve yet to see a real world example of a successful Smart Construction project. But the partnership with Skycatch doesn’t appear to be going anywhere as Skycatch recently announced that Komatsu “is one of the principal investors in a new $25 million round of funding,” according to The Verge.

Check out the video below for the full details and a simulation of the service.