The construction industry continues to be a hotbed of patent 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), robotics and artificial intelligence. In the last three years alone, there have been over 425,000 patents filed and granted in the construction industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Internet of Things in construction: robotic excavators. Buy the report here.

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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 stabilizing 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 232,000 patents, there are 80+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, robotic excavators, self-cleaning toilets, and smart waterproofing are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Sensor-integrated doors, eco-friendly HVACs, and automated slurry-blast tools are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas is work vehicle cruise control, which is now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for Internet of Things in the construction industry

Robotic excavators is a key innovation area in Internet of Things

Robotic excavators are excavators that incorporate automation and robotics technology to perform material handling and earth moving functions with limited direct human control. Through the use of sensors, cameras and GPS, robotic excavators are able to perceive their surroundings and semi-autonomously plan and execute excavation tasks. The automation of repetitive tasks can improve productivity and efficiency, while the lack of a need for a human operator inside the excavator, while still maintaining human oversight, can lead to an improvement in workplace safety.

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 robotic excavators.

Key players in robotic excavators: a disruptive innovation in the construction industry

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

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

Patent volumes related to robotic excavators

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Caterpillar 50 Unlock Company Profile
Built Robotics 44 Unlock Company Profile
Komatsu 16 Unlock Company Profile
Hitachi 9 Unlock Company Profile
Doosan 9 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 7 Unlock Company Profile
CNH Industrial 6 Unlock Company Profile
Deere 6 Unlock Company Profile
Baidu 5 Unlock Company Profile
Atlaspco 5 Unlock Company Profile
SafeAI 5 Unlock Company Profile
Intsite 5 Unlock Company Profile
Epiroc 3 Unlock Company Profile
Toro 1 Unlock Company Profile
Robo Industries 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

One of the leading patent filers in robotic excavators include CNH Industrial, a manufacturer and provider of construction equipment including excavators, crawler dozers, graders and wheel loaders. Key innovations patented by CNH Industrial include the development of an automated system for moving material at a worksite using a work machine that includes a chassis, material mover, location sensor, and steering mechanism. The system is configured to: store a sequence of travel paths; control the steering mechanism to follow the sequence of travel paths; determine the material mover position; determine followed travel positions of the work machine; generate an as-built map as the work machine follows the sequence of travel paths based on the material mover position and followed travel positions; compare the as-built map to a desired terrain map; generate a revised sequence of travel paths based on the comparison between the as-built map and the desired terrain map; and control the steering mechanism to follow the revised sequence of travel paths.

In terms of application diversity, leading innovators in the development of robotic excavators include SafeAI, a developer of autonomous vehicle technology for heavy industry, and Epiroc, a provider of mining and infrastructure equipment. By means of geographic reach, leading companies in the space include Built Robotics, Doosan, and Hitachi.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the construction industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Internet of Things (IoT) in Construction.

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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.