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Autonomous tech investment survey hints at continued need to build trust

Survey results indicate the benefits of autonomy are resonating, and identifies one perception creating unnecessary hesitation

A recent Industry Dive survey commissioned by Trimble provides a portrait of how leaders in construction, agriculture and mining are approaching autonomous tech in 2023.

The  results confirm some things we already knew, that most see autonomy as a vehicle to reduce overall costs, have better quality control, and get more work done in less time … with fewer people. But reading between the lines provides a glimpse into expectations and end goals that Trimble and OEMs can use to progress autonomy forward.

Insight No. 1:

Industries are looking to the future, despite a disconnect in definitions

It's clear that construction, agriculture and mining companies have plans to invest in autonomous technology. In fact, nine out of 10 leaders in these industries made autonomy investments in 2022. 

But two results seemed contradictory. While 34% of respondents claim to have reached full autonomous implementation, 94% of respondents say they plan to increase their autonomy investments over the next five years.

We found it surprising that 34% report having implemented full autonomy, raising the possibility that perhaps many industry leaders may not differentiate between partial autonomy and full autonomy. Is the Trimble definition different from others? 

To us, full autonomy implies the coordination of a connected workflow, where the planning, creating work orders and tasks come together with minimal human intervention — allowing crews to focus on more important tasks. In construction, this may involve earthmoving and grading according to specs. In agriculture, it can mean self-driving tractors that plow, plant, cultivate, fertilize and harvest. In mining, it could be a driverless machine that supports fully autonomous loading of ore.

There is no “end” to autonomous innovation, and the good-news takeaway here is that most are open to the next step. Even at level 5, there will still be enhancements to make as technology advances. With this in mind, Trimble has a responsibility to continue building upon our strengths, and building trust through successful partnerships. (Which is evidenced by the finding that 31% are hesitant due to lack of trust in the technology.)

Insight No. 2. 

Industry leaders expect us to take them all the way to full autonomy

In a related topic, 49% of respondents report that becoming fully autonomous is their No. 1 goal. We anticipated “supervised autonomy” to score higher. While a degree of uncertainty exists surrounding full autonomy in passenger vehicles, this hesitation appears to be less of a roadblock when it comes to machinery in controlled environments. 

Ths result tells us that industry leaders are looking ahead to longer-term benefits — even amid an uncertain economy. (Which is more likely fueling interest, due to the need to innovate more and better ways to solve for today’s biggest industry hurdles.)

Clearly, full autonomy won’t happen overnight, but suppliers and OEMs should keep this long-distance goal top of mind, knowing the expectation is that technology enablers will lead them into a future with higher degrees of connectivity and workflow automation. This includes removing operators from cabs entirely, among other fundamental evolutionary changes. 

Insight No. 3.

There’s a belief that they'll need high-level staff to run autonomous solutions

Of the hesitations that are holding industries back from embracing autonomy, cost does not appear to be one of them. Instead, the primary hesitations identified were lack of internal expertise to make the solution work (41%), and the perceived need for workers to be involved in its use (39%). 

This reflects the perception that autonomous solutions are challenging to utilize within an industry’s current framework, which isn’t the case with Trimble solutions.

If we’ve done our job right, the solution will be intuitive for anyone with even basic knowledge of computer interfaces — which most of today’s generation already is. There’s no need to recruit an “autonomy expert” with specialized autonomous training. Trimble has been designing user interfaces and touchscreens in cabs for years, and makes it easy to not only integrate into your daily workflows, but also easy to glean intelligence that will enhance overall operations. 

This goes not only for partially autonomous tech, but also for solutions involving advanced connectivity. We make the process seamless, with most of the steps falling into the background for an intuitive, hassle-free data flow.

Whiile the majority of respondents say they’re committed to — or have already begun — investing in autonomous technology, this report reveals that the best is yet to come.

Download our Industry Dive survey to see for yourself where autonomous tech is now, and where it’s headed.