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SafeAI and Obayashi unveil electric, autonomous construction haul truck

Companies set stage for a “safer, more sustainable future” with the first retrofitted autonomous, zero-emission haul truck

SafeAI, a developer of autonomous heavy equipment, and Obayashi, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, have unveiled a “first-of-its-kind” retrofit zero-emission, autonomous haul truck.

The Caterpillar 725 is the first haul truck retrofitted with autonomous and electrification technology. This is a breakthrough in heavy industry that paves the way for companies to reuse their existing assets while improving operations and enabling them to reach their sustainability goals.

Heavy industry companies have grappled with safety, productivity, and cost challenges for years. As Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) commitments gained prominence in recent years, sustainability has also emerged as a top concern.

Alone, autonomy or electrification can address some of these challenges, but together, they can have a massive impact.

This project marks a significant leap forward for the industry. While autonomy and electrification have been implemented independently, this is the first time a haul truck has been successfully retrofitted with both technologies.

This enables companies to reuse and upgrade their existing assets while streamlining site operations and improving environmental performance.

Bibhrajit Halder, founder and CEO of SafeAI, says: “Just as our autonomous solution is designed to be open and interoperable to be applied to any make or model vehicle, we want our solution also to be powered by any energy source.

“This project is a step in that direction as it showcases how our autonomous ground vehicle stack is EV-compatible.

“I am proud of our latest endeavor of retrofitting a Caterpillar 725, marking the world’s first haul truck retrofitted with autonomous and electrification technology. This pioneering project is a testament to our commitment to an energy-agnostic, autonomous future where efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand.”

By marrying automation and electrification together, there are compounded advantages that are otherwise hard to achieve as independent technologies:

  • Safety: Enables a more advanced and safer charging infrastructure and workplace while removing employees from dangerous work environments to supervise from afar without needing to operate or refuel vehicles.
  • Efficiency: Autonomy’s ability to enable 24/7 operations combined with the lower operating costs of electric vehicles improve overall productivity and cost-effectiveness, allowing companies to make the most of their assets.
  • Sustainability: Companies have clear carbon-neutral goals. Autonomy alone can boost environmental performance on worksites by up to 13 percent, and by swapping out diesel for electricity, operators can cut net life cycle emissions by over 60 percent.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Brand-new electric, autonomous vehicles have steep upfront costs that are prohibitive to many companies. Retrofit technology allows companies to upgrade existing fleets in a more affordable and environmentally friendly way.

Sugiura Shinya, business innovation division general manager of Obayashi, says: “When we started working with SafeAI, our partnership focused on safety and productivity. Now, we’re setting our collective sights on our next goal: to usher in a sustainable future for construction.

“In addition to demonstrating the synergy between autonomous and electric technologies, we’re also excited about the retrofit aspect of this project.

“The difference between the OEM approach and this initiative is that it puts the contractor in control. A retrofit approach allows contractors to proactively upgrade their vehicles to advance carbon neutral strategies.”

SafeAI and Obayashi have worked together since October 2020 to address common pain points across construction with autonomous solutions.

SafeAI retrofitted the vehicle with its proven, OEM-agnostic autonomous technology for this project. AVIA Engineering, a system integrator known for its expertise in the electrification and mechatronics of trucks, retrofitted the vehicle with a fully electric drive system.

David Sánchez, owner and CEO of AVIA Engineering, says: “We are proud to be a part of this project at the cutting edge of innovation.

“By retrofitting these vehicles using a 100 percent electric Drive Train, it allows companies to recycle their existing assets and use them in a better, more sustainable way.

“Our team, in collaboration with SafeAI and Obayashi, is proud to have successfully integrated a fully electric powertrain and is looking forward to seeing where this first step can take us.”

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