Autonomous excavator constructs giant stone wall with no human assistance

HEAP Autonomous Excavator Builds Giant Stone Wall
The HEAP excavator at the construction site - an overlaid graphic on the left-side boulders depicts their scanning process before being positioned. Images courtesy ETH Zurich

The construction industry is on the brink of a technological revolution, thanks to HEAP (Hydraulic Excavator for an Autonomous Purpose), a robotic excavator that recently demonstrated its capability by building a massive stone wall without human intervention. This feat is not just a showcase of advanced robotics but also a testament to the potential of autonomous systems in heavy construction work.

HEAP is a modified version of the 12-ton Menzi Muck M545 walking excavator, transformed by the ETH Zurich research institute. The modifications are significant and purpose-driven. HEAP is equipped with a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) for precise global positioning, a chassis-mounted IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), a dedicated control module, and LiDAR sensors located in its cabin and on its excavating arm. These technological enhancements are not merely for show; they empower HEAP with an unprecedented level of autonomy in construction tasks.

In its recent project, HEAP’s capabilities were put to the test. The task involved constructing a 6-meter (20 feet) high and 65-meter (213 feet) long dry-stone wall. The term “dry-stone” is crucial here, referring to a construction method where stones are stacked without mortar, relying entirely on careful placement for stability. This method, while aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly, is labor-intensive and requires precision, making it an ideal challenge for the HEAP robotic excavator.

The process began with HEAP scanning the construction site to create a 3D map. It then located and recorded the positions of several-tonne boulders that had been previously placed on the site. Using its machine vision technology, HEAP assessed each boulder’s weight, center of gravity, and three-dimensional shape – crucial data points for the ensuing construction.

HEAP Autonomous Excavator Builds 6-Meter-High Dry Stone Wall
HEAP’s advanced algorithm strategically determines the optimal placement of each boulder to construct a stable 6-meter high, 65-meter long dry-stone wall.

The heart of HEAP’s operation lies in its algorithm, running on the control module. This algorithm analyzed the data and determined the optimal placement for each boulder to construct the stable wall. Remarkably, HEAP robotic excavator placed about 20 to 30 boulders per session, mirroring the quantity typically delivered in a single load for such construction projects.

One of the standout features of HEAP is its emphasis on using locally sourced materials. This approach is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective, as it reduces the need for transporting materials over long distances. The use of local resources underscores a sustainable approach to construction, aligning with modern environmental and economic concerns.

While the pricing information for the HEAP robotic excavator or its services is not publicly available, the implications of such technology in the construction industry are immense. It promises reduced labor costs, increased efficiency, and a significant reduction in the environmental footprint of large-scale construction projects.

In conclusion, HEAP’s successful construction of a dry-stone wall is more than just a technological showcase. It is a glimpse into the future of construction, where robots like HEAP could undertake tasks that are laborious, time-consuming, and require precision, revolutionizing the industry in ways previously unimaginable. Check out the video below to witness HEAP skillfully stacking boulders.

Source: ETH Zurich