Cat makes big yellow mining machines, but also AV and other tech

Caterpillar firt developed an autonomous mining operation at Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, in 2016 with its partners. (Caterpillar)

Caterpillar appeared at CES 2021 for the first time to tout its autonomous vehicle and other technology being used in mines around the world.

In a short video presented to media on Monday, the 95-year-old company described AV operations at Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, where heavy equipment operates 24 x 7 handling fog and other difficult conditions safely.

The trucks operate with lidar as well as site awareness and perception software to avoid down time. The development project first kicked off in 2016, with trucks first moving material in 2018.

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The company first incorporated GPS in trucks about four decades ago and introduced the first AV in Texas in the 1990s. Today, the company has 350 AVs working around the clock on three continents and considers it the largest AV fleet globally.

Part of the reason for Caterpillar to attend CES 2021, even in an all digital format, was to meet prospective partners and entice engineers in a variety of fields to consider working at Caterpillar, said Denise Johnson, group president of resource industries. 

CES has attracted a range of companies through the  years that don’t fit the consumer electronics moniker.  Several years ago, automakers started attending because their vehicles are so heavily indebted to electronics and AI.  John Deere also regularly attends, showing a wide variety of tractors and farming equipment.

Caterpillar makes “big yellow mining machines” that include hauling trucks, drills, underground loaders and trains, but it also provides system software solutions for coordinating operations and even safety equipment designed to notify managers if an operator is falling asleep.

“Many think manufacturing heavy equipment is all we do, but it’s [also] the technology that goes along with those machines,” said Johnson.

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