Hyundai brings electric excavators, AI, and see-thru steel to CES 2024

Entertainment

The HD division of Hyundai brought some seriously impressive technology to CES 2024, which includes a full-scale version of its AI-powered Concept X excavator, a sneak peek at invisible implement technology, and some autonomous hardware that looks ready for prime time.

HD Hyundai concept X + Xite Transformation

First shown as a scale model of a future autonomous excavator at a South Korean equipment show back in 2020, the Hyundai-Doosan Concept X has grown up. Way up!

This full-scale version of the HD Hyundai Concept X excavator towers nearly 15 feet above the crowds that were shuffling through at the Las Vegas Convention Center this week, where it appeared with four articulating “tank feet” powered by electric drive and notably without a drivers’ cab… which is very much the point: to show off Hyundai’s Xite Transformation technology suite.

“Xite Transformation is HD Hyundai’s site vision for future construction sites that aims to solve pressing issues humanity is facing such as safety, security, supply chain issues, climate change, and more,” explains Young-cheul Cho, the president and CEO of HD Hyundai XiteSolution and Hyundai Infracore.

The other pressing issue Xite Transformation is hoping to solve is, of course, the seemingly chronic shortage of skilled equipment operators and commercial drivers on construction sites. “Skilled operators… have become increasingly rare, and the dearth of such personnel appears to be a permanent shift in culture, not simply a short-term aberration,” writes Richard Ries at Equipment World. “Xite Transformation will… reduce reliance on operators until the autonomous worksite is a reality, and the lack of operators is no longer a hindrance to productivity.”

The concept excavator boasts “fully electric” operation – which is to say that it has both electric drive and makes use of electric motors and actuators to operate the boom arm, rather than hydraulic oil – and is the first of three such concepts to debut. The other two, an articulated hauler and compact wheel loader (shown, below) are expected to bow in 2025.

HD Hyundai / Doosan autonomous construction drawings from 2020; courtesy HD Hyundai.

But wait – there’s more!

While it’s not busy making heavy equipment operators obsolete, HD Hyundai is working to make their lives easier by developing new technology that allows operators to “see through” their machine’s metal bucket.

It works using a suite of sensors, cameras, and monitors to project a digitized image of whatever rocks or blocks or assorted detritus is inside the bucket, and serves to give operators a better idea of what they have in there – which could help them anticipate shifting loads or damaging dangerous electrical or gas lines. And, if it sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is.

Tier 1 automotive and e-bike powertrain supplier Valeo introduced the XtraVue “invisible trailer” system back in 2019, which used a similar array of cameras to allow drivers to “see through” whatever they were towing. You can see both systems side-by-side, below.

Electrek’s Take

I’m not convinced that AI and fully-autonomous equipment will ever fully replace skilled operators in changing or unpredictable conditions – but there’s certainly a case to be made for automated equipment working in fairly controlled environments to, for example, dig a long ditch to a certain depth (among other repetitive tasks). In those cases, a small fleet of Concept X-style machines powered by Xite Transformation and guided by a skilled operator acting as a sort of “robot taskmaster” could get quite a lot done, regardless of whether or not we ever solve the construction industry’s latest driver shortage.

And, before you dismiss all of this as pie-in-the-sky concept trash and attention-seeking vaporware, consider this: Hyundai also showed off another driverless construction machine. And this one, it claims, is nearly production-ready.

The Concept-X2 autonomous dozer shown here first debuted at ConExpo back in August, and is based on the Hyundai Develon (formerly Doosan) DD100, marking the companies’ first entries into the autonomous machine category.

We’ll write more about that one when they make it electric.

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