Excavators – also known as diggers or mechanical shovels – are used in a variety of applications including demolition, digging trenches and holes, forestry work, heavy lifting, open-pit mining, and landscaping. Current excavators are controlled one joint at a time and can take operators years to master. The complexity of control is exasperated by the fact that the excavator arm and bucket inhibit the operators’ view of the area they are trying to dig.
George Danko, of the UNR Mining Engineering Department, has come up with a computer assisted control system making excavator control far simpler and more efficient. While current technology uses three different controllers at the same time, these controls are programmed so that the operator can move the bucket along a straight line with one motion. Danko’s computer assisted controls also allow the operator to program the controller with repeated movements in efforts to decrease operator error and increase efficiency during a commonly repeated motion such as dropping the contents of the bucket in a truck. According to Danko, the computer assisted controls can enhance the efficiency of an excavator by 20% and operators can learn to operate them in a matter of weeks.
While teaching robotics in Finland in 2000, Danko was asked to speak at the International Federation of Automatic Control. He decided to speak on his computer assisted control system for excavators. Since filing a provisional patent for this technology, Danko has continued its development while teaching at the University of Nevada, Reno. Along with the assistance of students and staff at the University, Danko has made a great deal of progress towards commercializing the technology. In his lab, he has two robotic arms, an interactive computer simulation of the controls, and a Bobcat excavator fitted with the computer controls.
Danko is currently looking at various ways to bring his product to market. He recently returned from a trip to Japan, accompanied by Dan Langford of the UNR Technology Transfer Office (TTO), where the two presented the computer assisted controls to Hitachi, a global company involved with excavators and other construction machinery. Danko is now getting ready to leave again for a two month long trip to Europe to present his technology to the Society of Mining Professors as well as the International Federation of Automatic Control.
George Danko, along with the TTO, are looking to bring this revolutionary technology to market by either monetizing the patents through an existing company, or by starting a spinoff company fitting existing excavators with the computer assisted controls. They are currently looking for interested parties including excavator manufactures, miners, and/or investors.