Editor at Large: The Best Construction and Ag Equipment Launched at CES 2024

CES 2024 lots of people

Technology continues to rapidly transform almost every sector on the planet. That was on full display last week at the 2024 CES tradeshow in Las Vegas. From flying cars to self-driving baby strollers to a virtual reality game that helps rehabilitate stroke patients, the largest technology event in the United States (4,300+ exhibitors) wowed 135,000+ attendees with innovations that are changing the way we live and work. When it comes to the latter, CES 2024 also attracted a significant number of construction and agriculture equipment manufacturers, showcasing the technologies evolving the off-highway equipment industry. Kubota Tractor Corp. attended CES for the first time last week.

CES logo

“We wanted to showcase the role of technology in solving real societal problems,” explained Brett McMickell, senior technologist for Kubota North America, at an exclusive press event. “Kubota’s very passionate about solving problems. We’ve been around for more than 130 years innovating, and we’re at a point right now where technology can be used to solve problems in food, water and agriculture. What we’re showcasing here is what that solution looks like to us. We focused on a residential farmer, small vineyard, and we wanted to show how technology comes together in order to provide a real solution. That’s driving us. Part of that solution is, of course, automation, so we are unveiling our New Agri Concept.”

Kubota’s New Agri Concept is a fully electric, multi-purpose vehicle illustrating the company’s vision for bringing autonomous technology and AI together to provide solutions for residential or small-acreage growers. It’s a very cool concept machine, and just one of many that I saw at this expansive show in a busier-than-normal Las Vegas. Big equipment brands from John Deere to Caterpillar brought equally big ideas to the show floor at CES last week. Here are my favorites.

Best Booth: HD Hyundai’s Immersive Xite Transformation Experience

HD Hyundai to Showcase Xite Innovation Beyond Time and Space

HD Hyundai, which also owns the Develon construction equipment brand, came to CES looking to impress, and it succeeded. HD Hyundai vice chairman and CEO Kisun Chung led a keynote speech on January 10th in the Venetian, which was a captivating look at its Xite Transformation vision, showcasing how technology can create a more sustainable and safer future for humanity. Hyundai is a giant company with expertise in everything from shipbuilding to energy, but Chung was quick to point out that construction was the focus at CES, partly because of the challenges the sector faces. 

“The construction industry today remains one of the slowest when it comes to technology and innovation,” said Chung during his keynote. “Let’s take a look at a few figures. First, with one in five workplace deaths in the U.S. occurring in construction, it is the second most unsafe industry only after transport, which is probably one of the main reasons why there are 400,000 construction jobs going unfilled across America. They will need an extra 3.2 million workers in the next 10 years. Now that’s a big gap to fill, and in terms of productivity while the aggregate productivity of the U.S. economy has doubled over the last few years, that of the American construction industry has actually fallen by almost half. We also need to do a lot more to reduce the environmental impact of construction, which accounts for 7.3 percent of global energy use and 13 percent of CO2 emissions. These and many other challenges are holding up our builders from developing critical infrastructure producing resources.”

HD Hyundai’s “Xite” concept is an expansive idea for construction jobsites of the future. It incorporates the company’s goal to bring innovation in building smart construction sites with autonomous, digital twin, eco-friendly, electrification and more future construction equipment technologies, many of which were showcased in its booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s new West Hall. For instance, a 15-ft-tall, unmanned excavator with four individual track systems (pictured below) greeted visitors as they entered the booth, while around the corner an HD Hyundai expert performed a remote-control demonstration of a wheel loader located in Atlanta — nearly 2,000 miles away.

HD Hyundia booth at CES in 2024 autonomous excavator 2
HD Hyundai booth at CES 2024 autonomous excavator

Like any good CES booth, HD Hyundai’s 10,994-sq-ft space (nearly twice the size of its booth at CES 2023) was also packed with fun and immersive technology attractions. Visitors could jump on a remote-control wheel loader simulator and prove their operational chops or brave a virtual reality twin simulator where attendees could experience future construction sites while spinning 360 degrees in a giant gyroscope. This was all surrounded by imaginative displays like a 60-ft-high, 15-ft-wide LED screen displaying an autonomous jobsite using analyzed site information collected through AI and machine learning technologies. Because of all this awesomeness, the booth was packed.

HD Hyundia booth at CES in 2024 virtual reality wheel loader simulator
HD Hyundia booth at CES in 2024 twin simulation gyroscope
HD Hyundai booth at CES 2024 looking packed 2

In the compact equipment realm, HD Hyundai announced it was focusing on bringing electric mini excavators to market with plans to have a full lineup by 2026, beginning with the market launch of an innovative electric field excavator in 2025.

“We are already launching the 1.7-[metric]-ton-class electric mini, and in this year we’ll launch the 1.9-[metric]-ton class electric mini excavators,” explained Kim Panyong, executive vice president of technology and innovation at HD Hyundai, during a press lunch meeting. “After that, we are developing a 2.7-[metric]-ton and a 3.5-[metric]-ton class unit, but for the 3.5-ton class mini excavators we are still working on the battery technology. We must change our structural design to accommodate the value to our customer, so we are trying to make a new platform for our electric machines for the near future, but now we are ready for mass production of the 1.7, 1.9 and 2.7 ton, but the above size requires a new platform for the structure aspect.”

At CES 2024, HD Hyundai showcased it can solve these problems. The global construction equipment player was the first to present 5G remote control across countries for construction equipment in 2018. In 2019, the company successfully demonstrated its Concept-X — a comprehensive unmanned and automated construction site solution which oversees all operations from survey to fleet management. Concept-X2 was also on full display at the show as well in dozer form (photo below). The company also spotlighted its X-Wise AI platform that aims to maximize safety and efficiency in fleet management to reach the ultimate goal of site autonomy and will be applied to all HD Hyundai’s industrial solutions as a base technology going forward.

HD Hyundia booth at CES in 2024 Concept X 2

“At our new AI RD center, we’re building X-wise — HD Hyundai’s proprietary artificial intelligence platform — which will be shared by all HD Hyundai companies and even our partners from shipbuilding and energy to robotics and construction,” said Chung. “We will leverage the full potential of AI to enable and empower future transformation for the construction industry. First using X-Wise to make each machine safer and smarter from more intelligent operational assistance to fully autonomous operation. Connecting these intelligent machines with each other and with a whole range of real time information data will be X-Wise Xite — our intelligent site management solution — which will also be powered by X-Wise. Together they represent evolution, the very nature of our business. From hardware based, from a manufacturer to a software solution, we’re going to lead this historic transformation by building a new global ecosystem for open innovation, working together with industrial because we know just as building infrastructure is all about teamwork it’s going to take teamwork to change how we build.”

Hyundai keynote speech at CES 2024

Read more about HD Hyundai’s keynote and booth at those links. Key to all these innovations were partnerships with global top players in the industry to build these cool new tech ecosystems, including companies like Gravis Robotics and Google Cloud. We’ll keep you updated on HD Hyundai’s progress.

Best Compact Equipment: Bobcat’s Electric and Autonomous Loaders and Tractors

Bobcat booth at CES 2024 Rogue X2 concept vehicle

Bobcat Co. had the best booth at CES 2024 when it came to compact equipment. Bobcat continued to unveil its latest and greatest tech at the show, which in the past included its electric skid steer and track loader. Last week, the famous compact equipment company released loads of cool concept vehicles, including the industry’s first autonomous and electric articulating tractor — the Bobcat AT450X — and the reveal of its RogueX2 loader (another awesome electric autonomous vehicle). I personally loved Bobcat’s advanced display screen, engineered into its Bobcat S7X (the world’s first electric skid steer). It’s a 32-in. monitor built into the loader’s front door. Bobcat partnered with LG Electronics and BSI Research on the development.

“We’ve mounted this LG OLED screen into the front glass of the machine,” explained Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation, while giving me a tour of the booth. “Essentially, we want to start making the glass of our machines a display. Once you do that, the possibilities are endless. In this case, we actually have a stereo camera on here and we can inlay information like utilities onto the screen. So, as the operator drives around the site, he or she can see in real time in augmented reality where the utilities are beneath the ground. This monitor is also a touchscreen. There is also a front camera, which shines over the top of the bucket because a lot of contractors want to see in front of the attachment.”

Bobcat booth at CES 2024 advanced screen display at electric skid steer
Bobcat booth at CES 2024 advanced screen display at electric skid steer 2-001

Bobcat and Agtonomy, the latter a Silicon Valley-based ag tech software company, established a partnership in 2023 to develop autonomous equipment innovations that increase ag productivity and performance. The result is the Bobcat AT450X electric and autonomous tractor, a versatile articulating tractor built on Bobcat’s AT450 chassis, using Agtonomy’s software and embedded-computing technology to support emissions-free and autonomous operation.

“We’re going to pilot these units in the field in 2024,” said Honeyman. “We’re going to have these in some vineyards with some key customers and start to get feedback. There’s a lot of excitement. We’ve met with these customers, and they’re very excited about this to save on labor or more efficient operations or a lot of times they can’t hire the labor in some of these areas. So, being able to have a machine to do some of the tasks and have one person manage multiple machines is a real advantage for them.”

Bobcat AT450X electric and autonomous tractor

The AT450X is designed to autonomously or remotely carry out critical farm tasks in compact applications, such as vineyards and orchards. Farmers can remotely direct the tractor to execute a wide range of tasks, including mowing, spraying, precision weeding, product and material transport and other labor-intensive activities. The machine leverages AI to constantly learn and dynamically react to its environment. For example, through vision-based systems, it can detect known and unknown objects to auto-stop operation if needed. It can also detect crop stems from weeds, for more precise spraying applications and reduced chemical usage.  

“[The AT450X] is good for specialty crops,” said Tim Bucher, CEO and cofounder of Agtonomy. “Not all agriculture is the same. Specialty crops are the crops that are not done in rotation. They’re also referred to as permanent crops or high value crops. Your fruit and nut trees, your vines, your caneberries, your raspberries and whatnot. Big ag is easier. If you and I took out 10 ears or 10 stalks of corn with our autonomous vehicle, it’s a disappointment, but it’s not the end of the world. If our solution took out 10 orange trees, that’s a problem. The AT450X is ideal for operating in olive orchards and in vineyards. This vehicle is great at steep slopes. It’s being used for mowing, for precision mechanical weeding, for spraying and even for harvesting.”

Bobcat booth at CES 2024 AT450X

Bobcat’s AT450X electric and autonomous tractor can be controlled by a person with a tablet, plotting the machine’s mission path via Agtonomy’s mobile application. It’s capable of 24/7 operation with the ability to swap batteries when it needs to replenish its energy source. It does this by returning to its home base when its battery is low, switching to a fully charged battery and placing its drained battery back to its charging station. Because it produces zero emissions, the autonomous tractor can also be operated in food storage facilities and other enclosed farm structures.

Sticking with the theme of autonomy and semi-autonomy, Bobcat also showcased a new version of its RogueX concept loader (RogueX2), which it first teased at CONEXPO-CON/AGG last year. The RogueX (on tracks) and subsequent RogueX2 (on wheels) were built as a proving ground to advance the Bobcat innovation roadmap.

Bobcat's RogueX2 electric and autonomous loader

“This RogueX 2 is our skid steer version,” said Honeyman. “It has a very unique geometry on the lift arm, [which looks like an X]. We removed the cab. It allows us to think about how a machine would be designed differently without an operator. Our engineers were able to do some really unique things with that design. With this skid steer version, we can get up to eight hours of runtime on a single charge. Wheeled operation consumes less energy than tracks.”

Both the RogueX and RogueX2 loaders are all-electric and autonomous concept machines that produce zero emissions and feature a lithium-ion battery, electric drive system and electric actuated lift and tilt kinematics with no hydraulics. These concept loaders probably won’t be showing up on jobsites anytime soon, but they will help advance and influence future Bobcat designs.

“It’s a proving ground for us,” said Honeyman. “We take it out, show some customers, and then we look at certain pieces of this platform or technology that we want to start to integrate into our current lineups as well as just kind of measure the perceptions of the whole platform itself.”

Most Exciting Newcomer: Kubota’s New Agri Concept Vehicle

Kubota booth at CES 2024

Kubota exhibited at CES for the first time in 2024, but it came ready to excite customers, stakeholders and journalists. Kubota unveiled the New Agri Concept — a fully electric, autonomous ag tractor geared toward residential or small-acreage farmers. The vehicle’s six independent drive motors and standard three-point hitch allow it to use many existing implements for common operations including mowing and tilling. Fast charging from 10 to 80 percent in less than six minutes enables flexibility by not constraining customers with long charge times. It also reduces vehicle downtime. Electric drives also enable quiet operation making the New Agri Concept easy to operate in residential settings or at night.

Plus, Kubota’s New Agri Concept just looks cool.

“It’s got that sleek body on it, which makes it look very cool,” confirms McMickell, “but the underlying technology, the electric vehicle, has been out in the field. This is a concept vehicle with a concept body, but the underlying technology is what’s important. The EV architecture, the fast charging 10 to 80 percent in six minutes, helps alleviate a lot of stress that growers have using this technology. Then looking at the different sensors. We’re looking at how do we make it affordable to growers. So, what is the right sensor complement so that you get functional safety, but you can still get the cost within reason? In Asia, for instance, we’ve got a [Kubota] MR 1000A [Agri Robo], which is fully autonomous. Kubota talks about providing complete solutions. The fundamental technologies that are shown here in the [New Agri Concept] are adaptable to our construction market as well. The autonomous guidance, navigation control, obstacle detection, of course, are very important in a construction environment as well as the data and AI coming together.”

Kubota's New Agri Concept

The New Agri Concept displays the potential of fusing a variety of up-and-coming technologies into self-operating, zero-emissions tool carriers. Key technologies highlighted include: automatic data collection; real-time monitoring; AI identifying potential issues; automation addressing labor challenges; water management automation; and a data platform enhancing productivity. To see that this technology is implemented and tested correctly, Kubota is working with small farmers, including Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which it invited to the show.

“We are small agro farmers,” said Carley Razzi, co-owner and marketing manager at Penns Woods Winery. “We have vineyards, and we are very cyclical. We have to maintain soil preservation, and we harvest only parts of the year. We have really highs and lows when we have labor needs, and if there’s work to be done, we have to do it. We can’t hire more people. It’s not feasible for us.”

“So, we end up putting in hundreds of hours trying to make up for the necessary work that goes into maintaining a crop, and the work-life balance just isn’t there,” continues Raechel Kuehn, sales manager, wine education and marketing, at Penns Woods. “We want to maintain our philosophy of minimal intervention, which is very sustainable. We want to be able to do that, but sometimes there’s not enough hours in the day. There’s not enough manpower. So, something like this New Agri Concept helps us stay true to our sustainability commitment. It gives us some work-life balance, and it’s really exciting.”

Our First Time at CES, But Not Our Last

CES 2024 closed last week with an exhilarating tech narrative. With 4,300+ exhibitors, including a record 1,400+ startups from around the globe, CES showcased the innovative trends shaping tomorrow and solving the world’s most pressing challenges, including construction equipment. Out of the 135,000+ attendees, a record 40 percent or more were from 150 countries, regions and territories around the world. This show is truly a global event. The 2024 CES show was also the first time the Compact Equipment crew has attended this tech show, but it won’t be the last. Our team will continue to keep readers updated on the latest innovations changing the small construction sector. Stay abreast by signing up right here.   

Keith Gribbins is publisher of Compact Equipment.

See Discussion, Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.