The International Union of Operating Engineers has plenty of big toys at its training center in Crosby, Texas, but one that began rolling across the 265-acre campus last week is an oddity.

The modified Caterpillar 336 excavator can use onboard computers and sensors to perform by itself some of the work the center trains human operators to do, such as digging trenches for gas pipelines or wind turbine foundations.The IUOE’s new robotic excavator is the result of an unusual partnership with Built Robotics, a San Francisco startup that sells a box that can enable a backhoe or bulldozer to pilot itself for some tasks.

It contains a high-powered computer, motion and angle sensors, and a laser scanner called a lidar commonly used in self-driving cars.Although Built’s product is designed to remove workers from the cab of construction equipment, IUOE’s director of construction training, Chris Treml, says the union wants to train its members to work with the technology. “Operating engineers are always on the cutting edge of technology,” he says.

 

 

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