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Next Up in Driverless Vehicles: Autonomous Excavators


Robotic earth movers are starting to break ground.

A startup called Built Robotics, founded by an ex-Google engineer and currently backed by $15 million of venture capital, has announced that it’s currently building a robotic tractor that digs and moves earth. Wired explains that the vehicle uses special heavy-duty, vibration-proof lidar sensors and GPS to help it navigate construction yards. A stack of computers in a roof-mounted box allow it to make sense of what it sees, so that it can dig up a site according to a set of coordinates from building plans.

Built Robotics is not alone in blending autonomy and heavy equipment. Elsewhere, Cyngn—the company formerly known as Cyanogen, which used to make ultra-nerdy alternative Android operating systems for smartphones—is also rumored to be trying its hand at automating vehicles. According to Recode, the firm, which is still in stealth mode, may also be developing the technology required to make self-driving construction equipment.

And some mining companies are already rolling out driverless trucks in quarries. Those made by the Japanese firm Komatsu, for example, find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors.