The construction industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation, with activity driven by an increased focus on workplace safety, productivity and environmental sustainability, and the growing importance of technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 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 Robotics 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, polishing robots, robotic excavators, and autonomous worksite machines are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Welding robots, automated slurry-blast tools, and adaptive road milling rollers are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily.

Innovation S-curve for robotics in the construction industry

Robotic excavators is a key innovation area in robotics

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 (2021 - 2023) 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 companies in the development of robotic excavators include Atlas Copco, a manufacturer and provider of industrial tools and equipment. Key Atlas Copco innovations include the development of a safety system for the automated operation of at least one mining vehicle within a work area. The system comprises at least one remote control unit, a main control unit, a plurality of barrier control units for the control of barriers, and a vehicle control unit arranged at the vehicle. The safety system is configured such that safety zones for the automated operation of mining vehicles may be defined within the work area via an interface, wherein each safety zone is associated with barrier control units arranged at all the entrances to the respective safety zone and an identification key, with which at least one mining vehicle may be checked-in for automated operation in and/or checked-out from the respective safety zone, without reconfiguration of the safety system.

In terms of application diversity, leading companies in the space include SafeAI, Baidu and Atlas Copco. By means of geographic reach, Built Robotics, a developer of software and hardware to enable the automation of construction equipment, and Komatsu, a manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, are the leading innovators.

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