Cat Trial 12: No Hands puts a soccer player & 794 AC autonomous mining truck on the same team

Caterpillar’s series of Trials are films designed to put its products, services and technology to the test in innovative, imaginative and often lighthearted ways; and as such they uniquely bring the capabilities of the equipment to a much wider audience outside of just construction and mining.

Trial 1 back in 2014 saw Cat® attachments fitted onto wheel excavators, telehandlers and multi terrain loaders; displaying their high precision by “playing” the world’s largest game of JENGA®. The most recent Trial 11 in 2021 saw Caterpillar team up with Hot Wheels® to talk STEM and create an epic playground with Next Generation Cat Wheel Loaders and other Cat machines with life-sized versions of Hot Wheels® cars, highlighting a combination of high production with low-cost performance.

IM spoke to Caterpillar Creative Director, J. Archie Lyons, about the concept. “When we do Cat Trials, it is primarily for three main audiences – first, of course, our owners and operators; getting the word out and showing how Cat products, services and technology can help them – Cat Trials help do this in a different way. Secondly, we have a group we call influencers – friends and family of our customers, that help with spreading the positive message of the Caterpillar brand by word of mouth. And then third, of course, the wider world.”

Lyons argues that what really sets the Cat Trials apart – and part of their magic – is the fact they speak to three things. “Of course, we talk about Cat products, services, and technology. Then we want to link it to a relevant business topic. But the top of the pyramid is how to create the interest – and link it to pop culture. That is what has given the Cat Trials the relevance, interest and engagement that you don’t get with ‘normal’ product videos.”

But the focus has mainly been on construction class machines and on operator skills – until now. Cat Trial 12: No Hands, started like any other Trial project – in that it had the “head, heart and gut check.” It had to hit all three of these. “On the gut, this was part of what was highlighted by Caterpillar at MINExpo 2021, that with autonomy, customers realise complimentary growth in safety and productivity – they go hand-in-hand. Cat® Command for hauling has achieved both, often in double digit percentages over a staffed operation,” shared Lyons. “The Trial also reflects the fact autonomy is growing beyond mining in other parts of the Caterpillar business – such as in the construction market. The heart then is the emotional connection – which was brought by the soccer/football link – a sport loved and watched by Caterpillar customers and the wider public globally. Players on the field have finesse with agility – we wanted to juxtapose that with a large autonomous mining truck to show that it can be just as precise.”

Cat Trial 12 was filmed earlier in 2022 at the Tinaja Hills Demonstration & Learning Center near Tucson, Arizona, with IM present, and has just been released. It features an autonomous 297 t (327 ton) class Caterpillar 794 AC autonomous mining truck and semi-autonomous 299D3 Compact Track Loader (CTL). The house-sized mining truck negotiates a soccer (football) field of obstacles including flags, other vehicles, and even dining tables laid with tablecloths, glasses, and china plates. Not only that, but to enforce the ‘no hands’ theme common to both soccer and autonomy, Caterpillar brought in former professional soccer player DaMarcus Beasley – the only US man to play in four FIFA World Cups as well as stints with teams including LA Galaxy and Manchester City – to “play” with the truck, dribbling and chipping a ball through his own set of obstacles. He then works together with the 794 as a team to chip the ball in the truck body of the 794, while it is still driving autonomously. Its truck body is then raised to finally “score” a goal in a set of goalposts, which the CTL had the honour of autonomously delivering.

While the filming was a lot of fun, it also served as an insight to what Caterpillar equipment and Cat® MineStar™ Command for hauling are capable of. The 794 AC truck was being controlled from a Cat MineStar Command Center by Joel Godfryt, a Caterpillar Automation Engineering Specialist. Godfryt was able to make small, incremental changes to the truck’s pre-determined route between each take aneeded by the production crew. Yet everything was done ultra-safely and efficiently.

Equally, the Semi-Autonomous CTL represents a new era for Caterpillar autonomy in construction class and smaller mining class machines. A Cat 299D3, it is the first machine to be equipped with a new “lighter” automation system, can deliver and return a load with no interaction and no further network input needed, as it has all the necessary information onboard. One operator can manage and operate up to four CTLs this way. Joe Forcash, Electronic Engineering Manager, Autonomy & Automation at Caterpillar, was at the Cat Trial 12 filming and told IM: “This lighter weight approach to autonomy with the CTL allows Caterpillar to bring autonomy to operations with a different cost structure. Quarries and construction sites don’t operate with the same cost approach to big mines. Mines generally have the network infrastructure already in place, so that every machine on the site can be connected relatively easily. The CTL can run semi-autonomously without any network, so it is a lot easier for a quarry application from a long-term point of view. And where it makes sense, we will also drive the best elements of this technology into mining.”