SafeAI, Siemens and Obayashi Partnership Develops Retrofitted Autonomous Construction Vehicles

In a previous pilot program, SafeAI and Obayashi successfully tested an articulated autonomous dump truck to complete over 580 load-haul-dump cycles. Siemens will contribute its autonomous pantograph and autonomy analytics in new projects shared by the trio.

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SafeAI, a company developing autonomous heavy equipment used in construction, mining, agriculture and more, has formed a collaboration with Siemens to create an autonomous, zero emission heavy vehicle fleet for Obayashi Corporation.

SafeAI and Siemens will work with Obayashi Corporation, a Japan-based company in construction, to create smarter, safer more sustainable and productive construction sites.

SafeAI and Obayashi originally announced their partnership in October 2020, beginning with a pilot site in Cupertino, CA. Together, the two companies set out to address common pain points across construction—including unsafe working conditions, labor and more—with autonomous solutions. Since then, they have successfully tested and deployed an articulated autonomous dump truck to complete over 580 load-haul-dump cycles.

SafeAI and Siemens signed an agreement in May 2021 to jointly work on retrofitting off-road heavy vehicles for autonomy, zero emission and connected applications, due to the convergence of these three trends in vehicles. SafeAI brings its scalable AI-powered retrofit autonomy to the collaboration, while Siemens provides its hardware and software capabilities in zero emission powertrains and the necessary infrastructure to operate these vehicles.

Earlier this year, a fleet of construction trucks—ranging from 45 to 65 tons and operated by Obayashi Corporation—was identified to be retrofitted for autonomy and zero emission. In May 2022, the companies began retrofitting the first 45-ton vehicle, which is expected to be ready by the end of 2022. The collaboration will continue scaling across the entire fleet over a three-year period.

“Siemens has already built a track record of advancing on-road electrification. Now, together, we can deliver these capabilities, at scale, to off-road industries. With this partnership, our present and future customers can experience the powerful, synergistic benefits of autonomy and electrification,” said Bibhrajit Halder, SafeAI founder and CEO.

For this project, it is estimated that the total cost of ownership for the retrofitted electric vehicle will be 15-30% less than that of the original internal combustion engine vehicle.  

“Heavy vehicle retrofit for autonomy and zero emission is an innovative yet cost-effective solution that will fast track adoption of sustainable technologies for heavy vehicles. Not to forget, retrofit is a form of reuse or recycle and hence in line with circular economy principles to better meet net zero goals. Combined with creative financing models and rigorous focus on safety, there could be as many retrofitted zero emission heavy vehicles as newly built zero emission heavy vehicles by 2030,” said Zubin Sarkar, head of strategy, business development and marketing at Siemens Commercial Vehicles.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity ahead for companies across industries like construction, mining, harbor and agriculture to reduce their carbon footprint, all while improving operations and lowering costs. In partnership with pioneers like SafeAI and Obayashi Corporation, we can imagine a more sustainable future for these industries.”

The project also incorporates unique cutting-edge features from Siemens such as an autonomous pantograph to enable automatic charging and an autonomy analytics suite to ensure a wide array of reliable and safe applications. Simulytic, a new Siemens AG venture, has been established to help accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles by offering a platform accessible to regulators, government, insurance, tech developers and operators alike.

The retrofit project will be engineered by a system integrator known for its expertise in electrification and mechatronics of trucks, AVIA Engineering.

“We firmly believe the future of the construction industry is both autonomous and electric—and we’re determined to establish that future ourselves,” said Hiroto Sato, COO at Obayashi SVVL (Silicon Valley Ventures and Laboratory). “We’ve already started to see the powerful impact autonomous technology can have through our work with SafeAI over the last year. Now, with SafeAI’s partnership with Siemens, we will pioneer more sustainable operations to continue leading the way toward a smarter future for our industry.”

IRONPROS Perspective

This partnership is a major milestone in the quest to bring functional autonomous vehicles to the construction industry. SafeAI mostly focuses on developing autonomous heavy vehicles in open mining environments. Such applications are ripe for autonomous-vehicle adoption because obstacles are minimal and the tasks, including picking up and moving materials across the jobsite, are very repetitive. Operating regulations are also less stringent, compared to city roads and highways.

SafeAI's willingness to develop autonomous vehicles for construction sites suggests its technology is getting better, as construction sites are more complex and challenging to navigate compared to mining sites.

Siemens offers several products supporting autonomous-vehicle deployment. The products range from design software for printed circuit boards (PCB) to cloud solutions.

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