Posted September 18, 2019

Remote-controlled mainstream  machines: The future is now

Doosan Bobcat unveils proprietary remote-control system for new R Series skid-steer and track loaders...and more.

In a press media presentation at its new Denver-based training facility on Tuesday, September 17, Doosan Bobcat themed the event, The Next is Now.

A catchy title to introduces its line-expanding 14-ton and the E50 excavators, its 15-model compact tractors lineup and a small articulated loader. But the definite star of the show was the unveiling of its innovative remote-control platform that literally removes the operator from the cab and introduces a game-changing way to turn on and off machine features to better match customer needs.

The iPhone/iPad-based app allows, through a subscription-based system, for dealers and their technicians to dial in performance characteristics the end user may want. For rental operations, an owner could set the operating parameters to match the job, then set the rate based on the machine’s capabilities, not its size or standard options.

“Remote operation is coming. Our customers are already using emerging digital products and services, and that shapes what they expect from Bobcat,” says Joel Honeyman, vice president of Global Innovation at Doosan Bobcat. “This is disruption and it’s happening fast,” he continues, “Our objective is, ‘How can we be the disruptor?”

He reports that macro trends are shaping the world. “It’s happening on three fronts: social, technological and the increasing availability of low-cost battery power sources.”

From a social standpoint, he cites 5G wireless connectivity will open up the world to having information access on a multitude of smart equipment, tools and services.

“Today’s 4G cellular service can support 1,000 devices per square mile. That’s why cellular service at stadiums and other large venues can be so slow. With 5G, that capacity is one million devices per square mile. That will affect the social sharing of data.

“Further, services such as Uber are conditioning users to pay for services, not things. It’s affecting how users are looking at equipment use, paying for its use only when they need it. Further, Amazon is conditioning customers that they can shop and get what they want the next day or even the very same day,” he says.

Finally, technological advances in electricity and battery power will continue, bringing lower-cost sources of energy that have much more power to an even wider array of tools and equipment.

Disruption on the equipment front
From a construction equipment standpoint, these disrupting macro trends are being exacerbated by three factors: Shortage of operators; customers consolidating operations; and equipment becoming more driven by smart technology or computing power, not brain power.  “Construction equipment has pretty much done the same thing for the last 50 years, but we will now see construction equipment change dramatically in the not-too-distant future,” he says. 

Bobcat and industry direction
“Where are we headed? We are slowly moving into the connection phase with equipment. We are moving from a selling environment to an engagement phase where users just want the use of equipment. That will eventually lead to autonomous equipment in five years or less,” Honeyman predicts, “Users will be using equipment available on a subscription or rental basis to get work done.”

To accomplish that, Bobcat experts are working so its equipment meets three strategies:

First, it must be simple and functional for the end user. Second, it must easily upgradeable and even backward-compatible with equipment already in the field. Third, it must provide customer value, not be technology for technology’s sake. “It must solve job site problems,” Honeyman says.

Remote controlled specifics
In this first rollout of remote control on its new R Series skid-steer and compact track loaders, the technology allows three levels of control from an iPhone-based unit such as an iPhone, iPad or compatible joystick controller. Those levels of control will be at the dealer, owner and user level, with permissions catered to the needs of the owner and machine. “It’s a subscription-based model that will set up parameters based on the permission level of the person with access,” says John Pfaff, Bobcat senior electrical test development engineer.

Features such as high- and low-level hydraulic flow, ride, reversible-fan and bucket self-level control are options that must be built into machines t the factory; they can’t easily be added after the unit is built, says Justin Odegaard, Bobcat acceleration manager, “With our proprietary control system, we can turn on or off these features. In the future, dealers will be able to manage the horsepower output of the model. Plus, many other capabilities are in development.”

From a rental standpoint, perhaps the upside is that a rental center could dial-in performance characteristics users want, set rates accordingly, and in turn streamline their fleets.

The technology also allows remote control of a unit, eliminating the need for an operator inside the unit. “This is the first step in this process to develop truly autonomous machines,” says Honeyman.

The new system allows users to program in geofences or virtual barriers that the machine can’t cross. “It could be used to protect areas where a landscaper doesn’t want disturbed or help a unit plowing snow avoid hidden obstacles,” says Pfaff, The virtual barriers are set up using pin drops on the Apple device.

The technology will be available through Doosan Bobcat in October.

Watch for more information and videos as it is released at