Posted by Paul Moore on May 24, 2022
Caterpillar’s test series are films designed to test its products, services and technology in innovative, imaginative and often light-hearted ways; and as such they uniquely bring the capabilities of the equipment to a much wider audience outside of construction and mining.
Trial 1 in 2014 saw Cat® attachments installed on wheeled excavators, telehandlers and rough terrain loaders; displaying their high precision by “playing” the world’s greatest game of JENGA®. Last Trial 11 in 2021 saw Caterpillar partner with Hot Wheels® to talk STEM and create an epic playground with next-generation Cat wheel loaders and other Cat machines with life-size versions of Hot Wheels cars ®, highlighting a combination of high production with lower cost performance.
I AM spoke with Caterpillar’s Chief Creative Officer, J. Archie Lyons, about the concept. “When we run cat trials, it’s primarily for three main audiences – first, of course, our owners and operators; spread the word and show how Cat products, services and technology can help them – Cat Trials helps do it in a different way. Second, we have a group we call Influencers – our customers’ friends and family, who help spread the positive Caterpillar brand message through word of mouth. And then thirdly, of course, the whole world.
Lyons argues that what really sets Cat Trials apart — and part of their magic — is the fact that they’re about three things. “Of course, we’re talking about Cat products, services and technology. Next, we want to tie it to a relevant business topic. But the top of the pyramid is how to create interest – and tie it into pop culture. It’s what gave Cat Trials the relevance, interest, and engagement you don’t get with “normal” product videos.
But the main focus has been on construction-grade machines and operator skills – until now. Cat Trial 12: No Hands, started out like any other Trials project – in that it had “head, heart and guts control”. He had to hit all three. “Basically, this was part of what Caterpillar highlighted at MINExpo 2021, that with autonomy, customers realize complementary growth in safety and productivity – they go hand in hand. Cat® Command for Transport achieved both, often in double-digit percentages compared to a manned operation,” Lyons said. “The trial also reflects the fact that autonomy expands beyond mining into other parts of Caterpillar’s business, such as the construction market. The core then is the emotional connection – which has been brought about by the football/soccer nexus – a sport loved and watched by Caterpillar customers and the general public around the world. Players in the field combine finesse and agility – we wanted to juxtapose this with a big autonomous mining truck to show that it can be just as precise.
Cat Trial 12 was filmed earlier in 2022 at the Tinaja Hills Demonstration & Learning Center near Tucson, Arizona, with I AM present, and just released. It includes a 297 t (327 ton) class Caterpillar 794 AC autonomous mining dumper and a 299D3 semi-autonomous compact track loader (CTL). The house-sized mining truck negotiates a football (soccer) field filled with obstacles, including flags, other vehicles, and even dining tables covered in tablecloths, glasses, and china plates. Not only that, but to enforce the “no hands” theme common to soccer and self-reliance, Caterpillar brought in former professional soccer player DaMarcus Beasley – the only American man to play in four FIFA World Cups. as well as stints with teams including LA Galaxy and Manchester City – to “play” with the truck, dribbling and smashing a ball through its own set of obstacles. He then works as a team with the 794 to insert the bullet into the 794’s truck body, while still driving independently. His truck body is then raised to finally “score” a goal into a set of goal posts, which the CTL had the honor of self-delivering.
While the filming was a lot of fun, it also provided insight into the capabilities of Caterpillar equipment and Cat® MineStar™ Command for transportation. The 794 AC truck was controlled from a Cat MineStar control center by Joel Godfryt, a Caterpillar automation engineering specialist. Godfryt was able to make small, incremental changes to the truck’s pre-determined route between each take needed by the production crew. Yet everything was done in an ultra-safe and efficient manner.
Likewise, the semi-autonomous CTL represents a new era for Caterpillar’s autonomy in construction class and small mining class machines. A Cat 299D3, it is the first machine to be equipped with a new “lighter” automation system, can deliver and return a load without interaction and without other network input necessary, because it has all the necessary information on board. An operator can thus manage and operate up to four CTLs. Joe Forcash, Director of Electronic Engineering, Autonomy and Automation at Caterpillar, was on the set of Cat Trial 12 and said I AM“This lighter approach to autonomy with CTL allows Caterpillar to bring autonomy to operations with a different cost structure. Quarries and construction sites do not operate with the same approach to costs as large mines. Mines usually have the network infrastructure already in place, so every machine on site can be connected relatively easily. The CTL can work semi-autonomously without any network, so it is much easier for a career application from a long-term point of view. And where it makes sense, we’ll incorporate the best bits of this technology into mining as well.