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The Future of Construction is Promising With Innovation!

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

There is no stopping the innovation in construction!

A freshly used Caterpillar excavator on a basement digging site.
Caterpillar Excavator (medium by JC)

My wife and I consistently walk through a newly established neighborhood in our daily exercise ritual. We often marvel at some of the construction equipment, given their size and capabilities. One such piece I have always been fascinated with is the excavator. I suppose this interest stems back to the book I grew up on, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.”

A picture from the book "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" showing an unhappy and obsolete Mike and coal powered Mary Ann.
"Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" (1939)

As a quick refresher, Mike Mulligan owned a steam shovel named Mary Ann, and he struggled to maintain relevance in a changing world during the story. He remained loyal throughout the story to Mary Ann instead of replacing her with the newer diesel versions at the risk of losing out on work (as illustrated above). In his search for work, Mike and Mary Ann happened upon a town looking to build a new town hall. Mike made a bet to dig the cellar, which was estimated to take 100 men a week to complete. If he fails to complete the dig in a day, they don’t have to pay him. Given this is a children’s book, the ending is a positive one.

I always marveled at large construction machines as a kid, and this story resonated with me. It probably drove my parents to ensure I had a full line-up of pressed-steel Tonka trucks.

Today the coal-powered steam shovels of yesterday have been replaced by large excavators with capabilities far and away superior. First, you had gasoline, then diesel, and now electric is starting to take hold, although battery anxiety is still something they are trying to overcome. The continued innovation in construction is something to marvel over.

A mid-size excavator made by Caterpillar with the sun as the backdrop.
Caterpillar 320 Excavator (medium by JC)

This beautiful Cat 320 excavator was recently delivered to the job site we often traverse. Considered midsize, it was beaming upon delivery as it looked fresh off the assembly line. Rated at 170 Horsepower and an operating weight of more than 50,000 lbs, this excavator can dig to nearly 22 feet. One could expect to pay $250,000 for one in new condition. The above unit made short work of the below dig.

A freshly dug basement for a new home.
Finished Dig (medium by JC)

An operator’s job is never done, but it is made easier with some of the latest advancements. The excavator above has swing assist stopping the bucket at defined set points when loading trucks and trenching. These excavators will automatically maintain the angle when sloping, leveling, fine grading, and trenching. Even the novice operator can look like a master.

If this isn’t impressive enough, the needle has moved further with the latest excavator introduction. Now they can be controlled by remote control, or even virtually. Remember that we are only scratching the surface here as this is a still-developing market.

A self parking and self digging excavator video by SRI International.
Automatic Excavator SRI International (medium by JC)

SRI International recently put out a press release on the above excavator. In addition to using motion controls to get the unit to move and dig, it will also self-park. Equipped with 3D cameras, it can detect movement and living things nearby, causing the unit to stop. Equipped with all of the latest safety features, it can work in the day or through the night without stoppage. Is this the future of construction? Mike Mulligan would be quaking in his boots.

Getting a picture taken next to the scoop of a caterpillar excavator.
What’s the scoop? (medium by JC)

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