Already has a remote-controlled harvester
NEW ZEALAND RESEARCHERS ARE NOT ALONE IN DEVELOPING A harvesting machine that can be remotely controlled by an operator outside of the cab.
Caterpillar has also used its experience with remote-controlled mining equipment to produce a feller-buncher for a special harvesting job.
Phil Pollock, Industry Sales & Marketing Manager for the Asia Pacific region with Caterpillar, told the Harvest TECH 2017 conference in Rotorua that his company received an unusual request from the US Army to clear a forest that was riddled with live munitions.
“We took a 521B and applied the remote technology from our (mining equipment) to this machine,” says Paul.
“It was run remotely to be able to de-forest this area, which was laden with unexploded munitions.”
However, just like the team here at Forest Growers Research, who developed a tele-operated system in conjunction with Wood Contracting in Nelson, taking that technology into a production forest environment is still a challenge.
“There is still work to be done with how we can successfully introduce it to forestry, where you have different terrain and lots of variables to deal with,” he says, adding that barriers to its wider introduction include “scalability, volume and cost”.
The technology itself is already here and being used, Phil says. Caterpillar has supplied a fleet of remote-controlled dump trucks that are running in mining operations in Western Australia and it successfully created a tele-operated bulldozer that performed at a large construction exhibition while the operator was thousands of kilometres away.
Caterpillar is also developing equipment with ‘semi-autonomous’ technology, Phil told the conference.
“We are now moving towards a single joystick control capability,” he says, describing a system that partially automates various functions, such as the swing, boom, bucket and travel operations.
Caterpillar has also developed camera systems that provide the operator with full 360-degree vision so they can see everything in a single view, including areas hidden by the boom or engine bonnet. Using that technology Caterpillar is developing a system that detects other equipment or even people on the ground and it will shut down the machine if they are detected in its ‘exclusion zone’.
This Caterpillar 521B was fitted with remotecontrol technology so that it could harvest a forest that contained live munitions – and just to add interest to the job, it’s snowing heavily.