VIDEO: Autonomous excavator builds six-metre-high stone wall

ETH Zurich's autonomous excavator has built a 6m-high dry stone wall (Image:  ETH Zurich / Marc Schneider) ETH Zurich’s autonomous excavator has built a 6m-high dry stone wall (Image: ETH Zurich / Marc Schneider)

Researchers have developed an autonomous spider excavator capable of building stone walls by itself.

The machine, developed by Swiss university ETH Zurich, used boulders and demolition debris to construct the dry stone wall, which is 6m high and 65m long.

Based on a modified Menzi Muck M545 excavator equipped with force-controllable hydraulic cylinders with integrated pressure transducers and servo valves, the excavator is called HEAP (hydraulic excavator for autonomous purpose).

Using sensors, HEAP can autonomously draw a 3D map of a construction site and localize existing building blocks and stones for the wall’s construction.

Specifically designed tools and machine vision allow the excavator to scan and grab large stones. It can also estimate their approximate weight as well as their centre of gravity.

Meanwhile, an algorithm determines the best position for each stone and the excavator then places the stones in the desired location.

The machine’s design was developed as part of the National Centre of Competence in Research for Digital Fabrication (NCCR dfab).

ETH Zurich’s researchers have published a paper on the excavator’s development in the journal Science, which can be accessed here.

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