Driverless technology in the construction industry

By Dan Weatherley
We take a look at how automation is giving a helping hand across the industry, including in China’s highway construction projects...

China is one of the world leaders for the adoption of driverless technology. We’ve seen some great innovations come from the nation in recent times, such as the self-driving RoboTaxi among various other self-driving car projects from companies such as AutoX.

The only issue with the above solutions is that they can only be utilised by the general public and transport industries. Thanks to a recent push in industry-based solutions, the construction industry is set to benefit from some of this driverless technology.

A fleet of unmanned road pavers and rollers are being utilised on the construction site of one of the country’s major infrastructure projects, a highway that is set to connect the city of Panzhihua in Sichuan Province with Dali in Yunnan Province. 

These autonomous vehicles enable efficient asphalt paving without the need of a driver. They also have GPS technology onboard which is able to collect the surrounding environment information. Other sensing equipment on-board includes microwave communications and millimetre wave radars.

The machines communicate with a remote monitoring data centre so instructions can be sent to the vehicles. This also enables the vehicles to be coordinated to perform the required volume of work.

The technology has been developed by a number of companies as part of a partnership to automate construction operations. China's leading construction machinery manufacturer Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group (XCMG), Sichuan Railway Investment Group and Tsinghua University have all worked behind the scenes to make this happen.


The Panzhihua-Dali Highway has been considered as a key project, part of China’s intelligent transportation construction. Tunnel and bridge elements account for over 80% of the construction area. The project has very high requirements in relation to the smoothness of pavements which the machines have been able to meet.

The “brain” of the driving system has been developed by a selection of researchers at Tsinghua University who are focusing on intelligent constriction.

The researchers believe the technology can help realise the unmanned operation of the construction vehicles under technical working conditions.

In addition to all of this, the unmanned vehicles are designed with several cutting edge features to promote safety such as automating early warning, emergency stop and autonomous obstacle avoidance.

Researcher Liu Tianyun, states that the fleet has promoted the industrialization of unmanned technology whilst boosting integrated development of other types of smart transportation in the construction industry.

China is set to accelerate the adoption of such technologies in road construction and road network management, following a guideline in May which was released by the country’s Ministry of Transport.

The guideline is also calling for improved 5G communications utilisation, edge computing and high precision position. 

"With the help of 5G network's ultrafast connectivity and low latency, we are expecting more unmanned intelligent construction sites in China," Liu said.

For more news and insights in the construction industry, check out the latest edition of Construction Global.

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