Construction equipment autonomy (part 2): A benefit or a bane for operators?

Electric and hydraulic power solutions provider Danfoss Power Solutions has invested heavily in the autonomous machines segment and, according to its head of autonomous vehicles, Peter Bleday, the move is paying off.

While industries such as mining and material handling are further along, Danfoss Power Solutions sees significant opportunities in other off-highway sectors. (Photo: Danfoss Power Solutions)

Electric and hydraulic power solutions provider Danfoss Power Solutions has invested heavily in the autonomous machines segment and, according to its head of autonomous vehicles, Peter Bleday, the move is paying off.

Sitting down with him to discuss the growth of autonomy within the construction industry, we start by asking what it means for operators, as smart machines become increasingly adept at tackling construction applications by themselves.

Bleday says, “It’s not a question of replacing labour. That’s not our goal.

“Increasing autonomy makes the individual worker more valuable and more productive.

“There was a panel debate recently with six different general contractors discussing technologies they’re looking at to make the people and machines they have more productive and able to do the job with more precision.

“Also, maybe five or six years ago, where a lot of this technology was proof of concept - let’s see if it works – now we’re starting to see it roll out into more production level and production capabilities.

“There are still limits on the use cases, but where it is being used, it definitely is addressing the skilled labour shortage.”

Levels of autonomy

One of the big questions for autonomy in the construction arena is the huge variety of applications that machines on the jobsite have to undertake, as well as the range of environments in which they are undertaken.

So, can levels of autonomy currently being rolled out make these tasks more efficient? And how much will construction businesses have to adapt their working practices to accommodate new technologies?

Bleday says, “Construction as a whole is kind of a wide river to ford, in terms of the different applications and the different things that can be done.

Danfoss Autonomous Custom Engineering Services (ACES) Autonomous Custom Engineering Services (ACES) can supplement an OEM’s engineering team during autonomous and semi-autonomous product development. (Photo: Danfoss Power Solutions)

“I think what we’re already seeing is that applications like trenching, like building wind turbine foundations, those which are relatively repetitive and cookie cutter, even some applications within housebuilding, is that robotics and autonomy can add a lot of value.

“As an example, you can have a soil compactor running overnight and when you come in the next day, it’s already done its job. It can be as simple as just being more productive when you shut down a road at night.

“Yes, we are going to have to adjust to the fact that the workflow and the work stream is going to be different.

“It has to be seen as part of the process from the start; factored directly into the project.”

Investment in technology

One of the challenges for companies operating in this field is knowing how hard and how fast to push ahead with research and design, especially given the historically traditional nature of construction and the sometimes lengthy processes of legislating for new technology.

Bleday seems relaxed about this, saying, “We’ve been significantly investing in this capability. Just from a team size, we’re now ten times the size and we’ve really been focusing on how we create value for our OEM customers.

“Firstly, it’s about software tools – building these tools and looking at the basic capabilities that vehicles have to localise and to navigate.

“This is relatively similar, be it the construction or agriculture industries. Is GPS available, is it not available, how would we deal with that?”

On the autonomy journey

And in terms of where Danfoss sits in the autonomy space, he says, “Not every OEM has autonomous software engineering services in-house.

Peter Bleday is head of autonomous vehicles division at Danfoss Power Solutions Peter Bleday is head of autonomous vehicles division at Danfoss Power Solutions. Photo: Danfoss

“Even if they have the resources to build an in-house team or to acquire an autonomous software company, they’re starting from scratch. They’re maybe three to five years behind everybody else.

“We can come in and support them, either in building their application or even bringing it to one of our application development centres and taking on the proof of concept for them.

“That’s a team [Danfoss Autonomous Custom Engineering Services] that we’ve launched earlier this year and we’ve already had some good traction and we’re building it up.

“And the last piece is Danfoss’ core business. As we look to not just the software that’s needed and the services that are needed for autonomy to happen, but also the hardware that’s needed, whether it be more advanced displays, remote controls and electronics, all the way down to steer by wire, control valves and pumps and everything along those lines.

“Our overall portfolio has been increasing to be more technologically capable and more easily controlled by electronics.

“That technology drive is going to be crucial. Whether you’re the smallest OEM building construction equipment or the largest, you’re going to need to start incorporating more and more of these capabilities.”


Peter Bleday will be speaking at KHL’s Construction Technology Summit in Austin, Texas, on March 19, 2024. 

For more information on the event and the speaker programme, visit


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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
Neil Gerrard Senior Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 7355 092 771 E-mail: [email protected]
Catrin Jones Deputy Editor, Editorial, UK – Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 791 2298 133 E-mail: [email protected]
Eleanor Shefford Brand Manager Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 236 E-mail: [email protected]