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The Changing Landscape of Technology
Alli Rael, LC/DBM


Grade control technology helps equipment operators make the grade the first time, through either operator assistance or an autopilot-type function. A 2-D system uses lasers and sensors to detect grade; a 3-D system uses those in conjunction with a model uploaded to the machine's computer and GPS tracking. Grade control technology can be used for flat planes or complex curves. John Deere and Caterpillar are beginning to incorporate grade control technology into select models of their excavators, graders, and dozers.

In this day and age, every time you turn around, there's some new gadget aimed at making people's lives easier or more entertaining. Virtual reality, augmented reality, wearable technology and more are slowly working their way into our everyday lives, and making work safer and more efficient.

Building Information Modeling
BIM, or Building Information Modeling, is, at its most basic level, a highly accurate, collaborative 3-D model. BIM takes a two-dimensional blueprint and moves it beyond 3-D to include height, depth, width, time, and cost. The desig as a whole is made up of a combination of objects, and the programs to create the models include specific information on those objects, such as dimensions and cost.


Robotic bricklayers are making inroads into the masonry industry. Australia-based Fastbrick Robotics introduced the Hadrian 105 that can lay up to 225 bricks per hour, and they are working on developing the Hadrian X, which they say will be capable of laying 1,000 bricks per hour.

Among the benefits of BIM is its collaborative nature. Each model goes from designer, to contractor, to subcontractors, to owner, allowing each professional to contribute their specialized knowledge. This increases communication and visualization: builders have been able to spot design flaws and correct them before materials are ordered, saving time and money in the process.


The SAM100, or Semi-Automated Mason, is among the first commercially available automated bricklayers in the U.S. Designed to work collaboratively with a mason, the SAM100 can reportedly increase productivity three to five times while reducing the need to lift by up to 80 percent. The SAM system starts at $500,000.

There are several BIM programs available, including Autodesk and Trimble. These are software add-ons that can help turn an existing program into one that will do BIM. B-processor is a program that was created specifically for building information modeling, and can be downloaded at

Grade Control Technology
The intent of grade control technology is to help equipment operators cut a grade accurately on the first pass, shortening the time required to complete the task and increasing efficiency. There are two types: 2-D and 3-D. Two-dimensional grade control is ideal for maintaining a specific slope angle on a flat plane, and uses sonic sensors or laser transmitters to cut, fill and finish grade. The 2-D systems are generally less expensive than a 3-D system, and work well in a constant environment.


Redpoint Positioning has taken GPS beyond workforce tracking into the realm of keeping employees safer on a job site. Their vests can alert the wearer, through the use of flashing lights, when they have entered a predetermined danger zone on a job site. Currently, they are in the prototype stage. Once available, prices will be based on number of workers and size of the job site.

Three-dimensional grade control technology uses an internal point of reference, such as a BIM model uploaded into the machine's computer, in conjunction with GPS to grade planes, slopes, contours and complex curves. While it also works in a constant environment, 3-D technology is better suited to changing job conditions than 2-D.

Both systems either guide operators to grade, or simply use an autopilot function. Because the machine has been programmed with the model and is equipped with the proper sensors, it improves accuracy and productivity: the grade only has to be cut once. John Deere and Caterpillar are just two of the companies integrating grade control into their excavators.

Reality Check
Virtual and augmented reality are hot topics in pop culture - and yes, there is a difference between the two. Virtual reality is an immersive experience that takes the participant out of the real world and into a created one, with integration of sights, sounds, movement and more. Augmented reality is when virtual elements are superimposed onto the real world.


place safety and efficiency. Ditch Witch recommends training new hires and retraining experienced employees on their horizontal directional drill using a simulator. The benefit is that a new user has the opportunity to learn the machine in a safe and artificial, yet realistic, environment. By the time they are out in the field, the equipment is familiar to them. PHOTO: DITCH WITCH®

Virtual reality is coming into play with heavy equipment use through simulation-based training. The objective of a simulation training is to create such an immersive environment that the operator forgets it isn't real. Ultimately, it creates a safe environment for a trainee to develop and transfer skills. Simulations are available for operations of cranes, dozers, loaders, and other types of heavy equipment. Ditch Witch is one of the many companies beginning to offer this, both for new hires and for retraining crew members to see where they can improve. They tout it as the next-best thing to actually operating their horizontal directional drills. The DAQRI smart helmet is an ANSI compliant hard helmet designed for use in the industrial world. It is equipped with a thermal camera, a 4-D operating system, 360 degrees of cameras, a microphone and audio output jack, and, of course, an augmented reality system. The AR functions include real-time information processing, inventory recognition, and step-by-step instructions. Even with all the technology packed into the helmet, it weighs only about 1 kg - about the same as a regular hard hat.

Fastbrick Robotics, based in Perth, Australia, created the Hadrian 105 robot that can lay about 225 bricks per hour - a feat that would take an efficient human bricklayer about half a workday. The company is working on the next generation, called the Hadrian X, which should be capable of laying up to 1,000 bricks per hour.


Building information modeling, or BIM, is a collaborative process at all levels. The designer, builder, owner, contractor and subcontractors have access to a shared digital model, allowing each professional to contribute in their area of expertise. The creation of the model is like taking a blueprint beyond 3-D. It includes each individual component and its details, such as dimensions and price. Creating models such as these allows for greater efficiency. If there is a problem, it can be solved before materials are even ordered. Prices vary for BIM software, but B-processor, which was created specifically for building information modeling, is available for free download from

In the U.S., Construction Robotics has created what they say is the first commercially available bricklaying robot for onsite masonry construction, the SAM100. SAM stands for Semi-Automated Mason. It can reportedly help masons work five times more productively with an 80 percent reduction in lifting.

Wearable technology is nothing new: while the Apple Watch and the FitBit are among the more recent developments, the first wireless heart rate monitor was developed in the 1970s. While a lot of wearable technology blends with the augmented reality discussed before, wearables go beyond workplace efficiency, emphasizing safety as well.

Redpoint Positioning has a prototype GPS device that can be integrated into safety vests worn by employees. These devices go beyond workforce tracking: they can allow an employee to request help at their specific location; they alert the wearer (through the use of flashing lights on the vest) when they have entered a pre-defined danger zone on a job site; they can even slow down or deactivate heavy equipment when the wearer comes within a certain radius of the machine.

smart helmet for industrial use. It meets ANSI standards, and even with all the gadgetry, weighs about the same as a standard hard hat. The visor, which also meets safety requirements, allows the wearer to see information and instructions related to what they are looking at in the real world. According to a CNET report, the helmets will sell as part of a bundle costing in the range of $5,000 to $15,000 per unit.


Ekso Bionics originally created their exoskeleton suit for medical rehabilitation: helping stroke patients or people with lower limb paralysis. They went on to create the Ekso Works for industrial applications. The 16-pound suit fits over the user's clothing and can assist in lifting loads up to 200 pounds, reducing the risk of injury. In an article for the San Francisco Business Times, stock analyst Jeffrey Cohen estimated the suit will cost about $12,000.

Ekso Bionics created a bionic exoskeleton suit in the interest of healthcare - for rehabilitating stroke patients and individuals with lower limb paralysis. More recently, they launched Ekso Works for industrial uses. The 16-pound exoskeleton fits over the user's clothing and assists with carrying loads up to 200 lbs., alleviating pressure and reducing risk of injury.

Technology is constantly changing. As advancements are made, virtual reality becomes more realistic, grade technology becomes more precise, and devices become more readily available, all in the interest of improving workplace efficiency and safety.

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December 10, 2018, 3:54 am PST

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