Self-driving excavators, a wireless 5G network with a construction site cloud and intelligent tools – this is how digitalized construction sites intend to meet the challenges of the future.
The turbocharged fifth generation (5G) of mobile communications is slowly taking shape. The auction for licenses has been completed, and Vodafone became the first carrier in Germany to introduce a commercial offer on July 17, 2019. The network that has earned such advanced praise is also becoming a reality in South Korea, Switzerland and in a few states in the United States.
The difference between 5G and its predecessors LTE and UMTS is easily told: higher data rates, a greater number of devices in a network and shorter loading times. It may not appear to be so spectacular at first glance. After all, the principle of “faster, farther, higher” has been part of our daily lives for years now. But the impact will be immense. Particularly in terms of the digital link between humans and machines.
This is something that may please private individuals. But the technology’s true potential will come into play in the world of business and industry. In addition to increasing efficiency and lowering costs, 5G will facilitate completely new forms of communication and collaboration.
Excavators with 5G
The extent of the change is illustrated by a project of a totally connected construction site funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Engineers at the Technical University of Dresden (TUD) are working with more than 20 partners to develop the complete communications system – from construction and process planning to construction site logistics and machines.
But a few years will have to pass before excavators, wheel loaders and loading cranes will be able to work on their own. Digital assistant systems will play a key role here. We are talking about things like a virtual reality headset that will warn an excavator operator about possible supply lines while an intelligent control console will direct the operator to the right pile of soil. The pre-condition for this is a system of construction site logistics that always knows exactly which material or tool is in which location and the time at which it is needed.
Communications between humans and machines, between machines with one another and between machines and the cloud will be done wirelessly via connectivity modules and the construction site cloud. The requirement for this is the high-performance wireless technology 5G with real-time communications. With it, all construction processes and actors as well as their interaction can be digitally represented and designed.
The construction site containers where skilled employees in particular work and live today will become server farms in the future. Over the next three years, the project will experiment with the new connectivity options and automation functions on the trial construction site created just for the joint project. The scenario is based on jobs required for civil engineering.