cranes are evolving

From autonomous to saucer shaped – the future of cranes

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Something characteristic of the places under construction is the gigantic cranes that dominate the area. They dominate the stage of the works as orchestra conductors – and because of their size, it is understandable why. They are in charge of supervising and participating in much of the movement of materials and equipment. They are the “control tower” that from a privileged point of view can see everything that happens around them.

However, this machine has been on the market for years, in many countries around the world… and although they have helped with a lot of work, they cannot stay that way forever, because everything is evolving, and technology is not left behind. Let’s remember that industrial escalation or renovation, as well as productive diversification, are essential to promote growth and development throughout the world. That is why it is necessary to renovate industries periodically: otherwise, we would stagnate, and there would be no progress of any kind.

Today we will talk a little about some exciting approaches made by some companies in the crane sector, with technologies that could be innovative and much more efficient than today.

A company called IntSite seeks to give cranes greater capacity of work by making them more “intelligent” and autonomous. This type of technology, which is already used in intelligent vehicles such as cars, trucks and many specialised robots, aims to make the cranes work faster, more effective and safer. To achieve this, they use technologies such as artificial vision, machine learning and deep learning.

Part of the problem this company wanted to solve is that today’s cranes are a little inefficient because of its antiqueness and the way operators work with them. There are many delays in many construction sites due to current cranes, and that is something key that this company want to improve. Besides, with traditional cranes, there is always the risk that their movements with large, heavy objects will cause accidents.

What does IntSite propose? Their system will use cameras to analyse images from above and intelligently distinguish between building elements and people working in the same area. The idea is that the combination of hardware and software that they have developed is integrated with existing equipment. In other words, the crane should not be reinvented, but improved.

And yes, as you can imagine, this is the future of cranes.
Using the autonomous mode, the crane can be used to move materials and construction elements from one place to another optimally. This saves time and avoids delays with optimisation of 30%, as calculated. In the future, they explain, the works will be places where different vehicles and objects will “talk to each other” via wireless communications. Meanwhile, the crane can detect these objects visually, learn how to move them, and distinguish an excavator from a bucket of cement.

In China, TuSimple has also started using self-contained cranes for container transport. These cranes move large metal blocks from ships to trucks – also self-contained – in the Yangshan port. They have the advantage of moving in a much more controlled and less “difficult” environment than a construction site, but the efficiency improvements they achieve are also remarkable.

On the other hand, the Australian firm Skylifter is working on a vehicle of the same name, which will have the shape of a saucer and will be able to carry 150 tonnes for almost 2,000 kilometres. The company says the Skylifter would be able to transport a building or a luxury cruise ship. Unlike the many flying vehicles we are accustomed to seeing, the Skylifter would have a disc shape, which would make it much easier to steer and transport any kind of cargo regardless of the direction of the wind.
So next time you see a flying saucer, don’t think wrong: it’s a crane!

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