Since last fall, San Francisco-based Built Robotics has been piloting its self-driving track loader at job sites across the Bay Area, most recently preparing ground for 700 new homes in Lathrop, Calif.

The vehicle used in the pilot study is an off-the-shelf track loader fitted with lidar sensors and a computer “brain” on its roof. Independent Construction project Manager Eric McCosker anticipates that the self-driving track loader could increase jobsite productivity, as it can work for long hours without exhaustion. Built Robotics founder Noah Ready-Campbell also expects that the company’s service will be cheaper than renting or buying a track loader in the Bay Area and paying someone to drive it.

Those with concerns about the safety of self-driving vehicles note that a large construction vehicle could potentially do more damage than a passenger car if it was hacked, went rogue, or otherwise failed to stop for a human in its path.

The technology also raises fears of jobs lost to automation. However, Jim Riley, a district representative for the Operating Engineers Local 3, notes that the technology cannot yet feasibly replace human operators, and even if it does those workers could transition to tech supervision.

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