Komatsu to use drones for automated digging in The U.S.

Komatsu will roll out as early as this fiscal year a service in the U.S. using drones to cut down on the labor required for construction projects, aiming to boost its North American market share.

The service uses drones to survey a work site and create a detailed three-dimensional map, which is compared to a blueprint to determine how much earth needs to be moved. Construction machinery equipped with information and communications technology (ICT) reads this data and automatically digs at the correct angles.

The Japanese company launched the Smart construction service domestically in February 2015. In addition to saving labor, it obviates the need for veteran machinery operators, slashing work time by as much as half. While Komatsu’s ICT-equipped hydraulic excavators cost at least 50% more than normal models at around 37 million yen ($339,000) in Japan, the reduction in construction time, among other factors, means customers ultimately save money. Komatsu’s domestic rental revenue alone, including usage fees for ICT systems, totaled 1.5 billion yen last fiscal year.

Smartconstruction will roll out in the U.S. in stages. The company expects clients to consist mainly of small and midsize construction companies with relatively few workers. It plans to expand the service gradually to Europe and emerging markets, aiming to boost total global sales to 10 billion yen soon.

The company has strengthened partnerships with companies offering related technology, including investing in American drone developer Skycatch. It is also considering teaming with businesses involved with artificial intelligence.

The construction machinery industry faces a difficult environment, with key market China slowing and resource prices in a slump. Komatsu and peers are branching out, offering not only equipment but also services that improve project efficiency.

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