The construction industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by an increased focus on environmental sustainability and workplace safety, and the growing importance of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics. In the last three years alone, there have been over 248,000 patents filed and granted in the construction industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics in Construction: Autonomous excavators.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

80+ innovations will shape the construction industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the construction industry using innovation intensity models built on over 179,000 patents, there are 80+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, robotic water surface cleaner is the disruptive technology that is in the early stage of application and should be tracked closely. Intelligent motor controllers, building finishing techniques, and sensor-integrated door wings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are heavy equipment monitoring systems and electric hydraulic excavator, which are now well established in the industry.  

Innovation S-curve for robotics in the construction industry

Autonomous excavators is a key innovation area in robotics

Autonomous excavators use advanced robotic technology to automate the excavation process on construction sites. Using sensors to collect information on the surrounding area, autonomous excavators can track how much soil they are moving, in real-time. This helps to reduce the movement of excess soil, which can significantly improve the efficiency and environmental sustainability of construction sites.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established construction companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of autonomous excavators.

Key players in autonomous excavators– a disruptive innovation in the construction industry  

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to autonomous excavators

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Komatsu 68 Unlock company profile
Caterpillar 43 Unlock company profile
Kobe Steel 38 Unlock company profile
Built Robotics 33 Unlock company profile
Husqvarna 24 Unlock company profile
Deere & Co 22 Unlock company profile
Hitachi 16 Unlock company profile 12 Unlock company profile
Sumitomo Heavy Industries 12 Unlock company profile
Newmont 9 Unlock company profile
Baidu 8 Unlock company profile
Iseki & Co 6 Unlock company profile
Yanmar Holdings 6 Unlock company profile
Topcon 6 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Built Robotics is among the leading filers in autonomous excavators. The company, which leads in the automated construction equipment space, has filed a patent for an autonomous excavation vehicle that is capable of navigating through a dig site and carrying out an excavation routine. Enabled through a system of sensors mounted to the excavator to collect spatial, imaging, measurement, and location data representing the status of the excavation vehicle and its surrounding environment, the system allows the extraction vehicle to execute instructions as part of an excavation routine, as well as perform numerous additional tasks such as checking the volume of excavated earth in an excavation tool and helping to prepare a digital terrain model. Other key patent filers in the autonomous excavation space include Komatsu, Caterpillar, and Husqvarna.

In terms of application diversity, Husqvarna is among the leading companies, along with Topcon. In terms of geographic reach, Newmont and Kobe Steel are the leading companies.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the construction industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Robotics in Construction.


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.