EAST PEORIA — A distance of 1,500 miles was no impediment for East Peoria Community High School students operating a Caterpillar Inc. bulldozer.

The teens took turns Thursday experimenting with moving a D11T around a proving ground in Tucson, Ariz., as remote operators from a trailer outside of the company’s Building CV in East Peoria as part of a demonstration of the emerging technology dubbed Command for Dozing.

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“The reason we have this offering is to help get operators out of harm’s way and keep them comfortable, get them out of the noisy and dusty environment at the mine site as well as get them closer to populated areas and get them home to their families after every shift,” said Craig Watkins, a commercial manager for surface mining technology at Caterpillar. “If we can get them home at the end of every shift, we’re going to find a lot more people a lot more willing to do this type of work.”

Ultimately, the company is “working toward the autonomous mine site of the future,” Watkins said.

And those changes appeal to students like EPCHS freshman Jared Biggs.

“If you’re in the real thing, you get the fumes, dust, everything. If you’re in the simulator, all you do is sit down. It’s like a normal video game.”

It absolutely is, if also a bit more futuristic and interactive. The command console, designed to be operated just like the controls in the cab of a bulldozer — except with some added touchscreen controls in place of switches — features live-feed cameras from the front, rear and sides of the cab. Those views are supplemented by another, longer-distance view of the work area.

Such remotely operated setups allow users to drive the earth-moving equipment from a distance anywhere from a few feet away to a point thousands of miles distant.

By Chris Kaergard
Journal Star political reporter @ChrisKaergard

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