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In a world that is being automated at a rapid rate, heavy equipment careers look to be safe from automation and one of the biggest reasons is simply dirt. The ezine on Grader and Excavation Contractor has a good article titled the Human Element – it’s well worth a read if you have any doubts on heavy equipment careers and robotics. The author, John Trotti, puts it very clearly:
Despite all the machinery involved, dirtworking is not merely a mechanical exercise. If it were, we could go immediately to robotics and spend our time shuttling back and forth between our favorite fishing hole and bank while legions of little black boxes did all the work. Instead, machine productivity starts with the operatorâ€™s underlying knowledge of dirt, without which all the skill in the world at video games doesnâ€™t mean squat.
The writer goes on to lament the lack of farm grown workers that are moving into heavy equipment careers. Why? Farmers, including their children, have a sound working knowledge of dirt. They have to if they are going to be successful farmers. City breed workers that are moving into heavy equipment careers are starting without that knowledge of dirt. Of course, that doesn’t mean they cannot learn – they can and do. Even the young farmers who are coming off the land still need dirt education to some degree. After all, they know a lot about ‘their’ dirt, but not necessarily the dirt on the other side of the road.
What does this have to do with robots? Plenty. Robots can learn about dirt. However, think about it for a moment. For a robot to make decisions based on the dirt, it would need to drill a small sample, run a few tests, make a decision and act – but it would need to do it constantly because dirt changes. Experienced operators do all of that, in a split second, almost without thinking. It becomes intuitive. As they are digging through a loamy soil, if they suddenly hit rock or clay, they automatically change the way they attack the soil. There’s no drilling, no testing, just action.
Maybe one day a robot will be built that can act intuitively. I don’t expect to see it my life time, or yours for that matter. Heavy equipment careers will be safe for a long time to come so long as we learn all about the dirt as we work. That learning starts with a good heavy equipment training program – get the right foundation and your career is assured.