Japan’s construction industry has its eyes on esports players for machinery operation

Image credit: ITOCHU TC Construction Machinery channel on YouTube

Japan’s TDBC (Transportation Digital Business Conference) and Chiba Bousou Ginou Center held an eKenki (eConstruction machinery) tournament in October. Participants in the tournament operated construction machinery remotely and competed to see who could complete the assigned task in the shortest amount of time.

The tournament even included some who had zero experience with operating machinery, such as professional Super Smash Bros. Ultimate player Yamanacation and members from esports clubs at Japanese universities. The construction industry appears to have taken an interest in the skills of these young gamers.

eConstruction machinery is a system that involves unmanned machinery being controlled remotely to perform work at construction sites. Since 1991, it has been used for reconstruction work following major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Japan. The technology is useful because work at dangerous disaster sites can be performed safely from a distance, and in Japan, it has already been used for around 200 cases. In the future, it is expected to be used for space development, including construction on the surface of the moon.

The machinery used during the tournament were excavators and dump trucks. In addition to aerial footage from drones, multiple displays were used to create a large screen which showed camera footage from the driver’s seat. In front of the display were two levers that were used to operate the construction machinery. Only these levers were used during the tournament, but it is also possible to use other devices like game controllers.

Image credit: ITOCHU TC Construction Machinery channel on YouTube

Five teams took part in the tournament and were divided by industry, including teams from the construction industry, fire rescue services, and professional and student esports players. The teams generally consisted of three members with the exception of the construction company team, which had only two members. The participants were gathered at a venue in Tokyo and operated machinery that was located around 70 km away in the town of Otaki in Chiba prefecture.

The competition itself took the form of a “Soil carrying speedrun” using the excavators and dump trucks. The excavators travel in a straight line and meet with the dump trucks, which must navigate two curves. After loading the soil into the trucks, the two vehicles must then return to their starting positions. The teams competed for the quickest time to make the round trip. The course was rather narrow and running off course or hitting a pylon resulted in a penalty.

The tournament was livestreamed and even featured commentary to add to the excitement, so it was just like an esports tournament. According to the commentators, the location of the site in Chiba has poor connection and GPS coverage, showing that it is even possible to use eConstruction machinery in those kinds of conditions.

Image credit: ITOCHU TC Construction Machinery channel on YouTube

The victors of the tournament were the Chiba fire rescue team, who had experience with operating construction machinery at a disaster site. Despite saying, “We were so nervous that our hands were shaking,” the team completed the task in 4 minutes 29 seconds and 97 milliseconds.

Even though they did not have any experience with construction machinery, the professional and student esports player team came in second with a time of 5 minutes 3 seconds and 50 milliseconds.

Yamanaction’s operation of the dump truck received high praise from the event’s commentators. The fact that this team came second after only having a limited time to practice speaks to the potential that esports players may have in eConstruction machinery.

Image credit: ITOCHU TC Construction Machinery channel on YouTube

Japan’s construction industry is currently confronting a serious labor shortage as the country’s population continues to age. This tournament was held with the intention of connecting with and employing the young people who are lacking in the industry. They have especially high hopes for gamers who have experience with using controllers.

Following the tournament, sponsors Itochu Corporation and major construction companies voiced their acknowledgement of esports players, saying, “We have confirmed that the abilities of esports players can indeed be used in the remote operation of construction machinery.” (The Sankei News)

Furthermore, the remote operation that was demonstrated at the event also served as a way to show the appeal of being able to operate machinery from an office or home without going to the actual site, provided the proper environment is put in place.

It also showed that people who are experienced with playing video games may be suitable for a role in remote operation of construction machinery. As the technology of eConstruction machinery continues to advance, it may prompt an even wider range of people to develop an interest in the construction industry.

Gaming skills that have been honed over many years may soon be applied to construction machinery operation and used not only for construction but also disaster reconstruction and eventually space development. Such a future may not be too far off.

Written by. Marco Farinaccia based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2022-11-25 20:57 JST)