China’s remote control excavator specialist BuilderX recently shipped an installation kit from Beijing to Osaka in Japan where it says the client has experienced a seamless remote installation without on-site BuilderX staff; with the remote-control technology allowing an operator to run a Japan-based excavator from China. The project is also important for the mining sector as it shows what can be achieved.
The test took place on March 23, 2022 at a local test field in Ono, Hyōgo prefecture, where the excavator was moving quickly and nimbly despite there being no operator in the cabin. Despite this, the excavator successively completed a series of movements including swinging, digging and loading with precision. All these movement commands were given by the remote-control centre in Beijing, China, which is 1,700 km away from the excavator in Japan.
Japan has an ageing population with a shrinking industrial workforce – issues also facing mining around the world. The deteriorating labour shortage issue has led to a substantial increase in the cost of conducting construction work. The labour shortage is also causing some construction projects to be postponed, as multiple projects are using the same group of construction workers and therefore new projects cannot get started until the group completes the previous project. Moreover, in the past two years, Japan has had to pause plans to bring workers in from overseas due to the international travel limitations during COVID-19.
Besides the ageing society and labour shortages, the dominant mountain and hill landforms in Japan has prohibited the use of larger scale excavators. Earthquakes and tsunamis also occur frequently, and post-earthquake construction requires a large number of industrial machinery. In addition, after the economic boom in the 1980s, much of the infrastructure in Japan has reached the end of its lifespan and is waiting for renewal.
To tackle all these challenges, the Japanese government has tried a variety of technologies such as industrial automation and digitalisation. The government hoped to use new technologies to be able to promptly react to emergencies and natural disasters. Those technologies were also adopted by the government to help solve the labour shortage issue, thus increasing the construction efficiency. However, due to many technical limitations, the robotisation drive in Japan is yet to be fully developed and used in construction or rescue and relief operations. As a leading provider of remote-control operation technology. BuilderX says its smart remote-control system has become a leading choice for Japanese clients. “The BuilderX system’s low latency, allowance for ultra-long distances, and its excellent stability and reliability have gained many Japanese clients’ preference and trust.”
Through communication with the Japanese client, BuilderX further optimised and customised the remote-control system based on the specific needs and use case for the client. BuilderX shipped the upgraded the system installation kit to Japan and conducted a live tutorial to help the client install the remote-control system to the excavator. The remote-control system’s high adaptability allowed the Japanese client to complete the assembly and installation easily and smoothly.
During the on-site test, BuilderX tailored a remote network transmission solution to ensure the real-time 4G network flow for the 1,700 km of distance between Ono and Beijing. BuilderX believed that focusing on lowering the sensor cameras’ CODEC lag was the key to minimising the remote-control system’s latency and optimising the user experience. BuilderX says it was able to upgrade the algorithms and parameters to the optimum level. The system was able to read and process the data, finish video coding and decoding, and display to both sides, within 60 milliseconds. The 1,700 km remote-control test was successfully completed using the public 4G network, and the close-loop lag was as low as 170 milliseconds.
After the successful on-site test, the Japanese client spoke highly of BuilderX: “It wasn’t easy to connect our team in Japan with the BuilderX team in Beijing and we worked together to make the whole thing happen. When we saw the excavator moving with Beijing’s commands and control, we were very excited. Japan is facing many challenges regarding labour shortages. I believe the remote-control system for construction work will become very popular and gain tremendous traction in Japan.”
The operator was asked how did they feel to remotely control an excavator? “Even though the distance was long, I was able to do some tiny movements with accuracy. The process was very seamless. There was no noticeable lag between what Beijing could see and what I saw. There was no freeze at all. It felt just like I was driving the excavator.”
In the past, there were a couple of cases where people used a private 5G network to remote control an excavator. BuilderX, however, says it was able to achieve this by using a public 4G network, and this makes a huge difference. “Traditional 5G remote control relied heavily on the network itself, and the cost would be very high. BuilderX was able to make it happen by inserting a mobile 4G SIM card to both the machine in China and the machine in Japan. Compared with the private 5G network, BuilderX’s public 4G network could be applied to a much broader spectrum of environments with high flexibility and adaptability. Additionally, using the public 4G network costs much less than the private 5G network.”
The ability to carry out a remote-control operation using a 4G network has also allowed BuilderX to explore a variety of different use cases, particularly large-scale clusters or cases that involve remote control from overseas. These highlights will further diversify the driverless system’s use cases. “In the current rise of digitalisation, BuilderX has been continuously making efforts to obtain technical improvements based on clients’ needs. BuilderX is also dedicated to increasing productivity and cost efficiency, as well as creating a safe construction work environment. BuilderX is ready to embrace all kinds of industry trends and changes in the future.”
Currently, BuilderX’s remote-control solution for excavators has been used in cases including smart mining in metals and coal operation as well as bulk ports. In the future, BuilderX says it will keep on upgrading its technology, designing and creating more be-spoke digital solutions for more use cases, and adding values to the industry technological revolution.