Excavators will be able to build structures autonomously

Excavators will be able to build structures autonomously

  • excavadora

12 February, 2024

In Switzerland, a group of researchers have succeeded in modifying an excavator to build stone walls autonomously, without human help, paving the way for automation in this type of manual work. 


ETH Zurich’s team has succeeded in developing this autonomous excavator, called HEAP (Hydraulic Excavator for Autonomous Purposes), a machine capable of dealing with different shapes and sizes of stones, recycled concrete and other materials in order to build structures such as walls.

For this project, a Menzi Muck M545 excavator was used, a 12-tonne machine modified to operate autonomously and remotely. The excavator has special, force-controllable hydraulic cylinders on the chassis to adapt to any terrain.


The excavator is equipped with a variety of sensors, including LIDAR, IMU and GNSS. These sensors report the movement of the machine and its environment to a specially designed algorithm and software. With this information, the machine can work autonomously.


HEAP recently succeeded in building a 6m high and 65m long wall as part of a planned project in Oberglatt, Switzerland.


Thanks to its sensors, the excavator outlines its entire environment in 3D to identify the blocks that can be used in construction. Specially designed tools and machine vision approaches enable the machine to scan suitable stones within its reach, detecting their weight and centre of gravity. This is where another algorithm comes into play, which serves to optimally select the best location for the stone within the structure being built.