Custom excavator
September 19, 2015 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Everyone has probably seen wheelchair accessible cars and vans, but this custom Hitachi ZX210LC-5 (servicable translation) is probably the only wheelchair accessible excavator around. It came about as a joint project between the Norwegian welfare and labour administration (NAV) and the construction firm Jakhelln Entreprenør in Lillestrøm, Norway, when operator Tim Knutsen, who lost use of his legs after a traffic accident in 2006, needed work. Video in this article (translation of article text).
posted by Harald74 (6 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sadly, the narrative attached to this as it's being shared on social media is "look what this guy's amazing boss did," completely leaving out the icky socialism aspect. Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

From an engineering perspective, this is an incredible solution. Excavators are already complex machines and adding a lift mechanism for the cab would not have been an easy task. The cab mounts take a lot of stress -- they would have had to find a robust way to lock the cab down during operation, but allow it to release for the lifting.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 PM on September 19, 2015

Also, I might have missed it in the articles, but I wish there was a clear depiction of how they reworked the controls. Excavators have both foot and hand controls for controlling the tracks (forward/reverse for both left and right tracks can be done by hand or foot), while the swing, boom, and attachments are controlled by two joysticks. This means that while basic movements can be done without the foot controls at all, some maneuvers require using both hand and foot controls simultaneously, such as lifting and pivoting the machine on a slope. I would love to see what the engineers came up with to solve this without the use of foot controls, or if they just left the controls alone with the expectation that the operator would find solutions.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:34 PM on September 19, 2015

move the human out of the machine entirely

This is where we ought to be going for people of all abilities using similar equipment, since it's got the potential to be so much safer. Of course we don't want to misjudge what footing an excavator's on, but it does happen, and the operators can be seriously injured in falls.

Being able to open up these jobs to people with mobility impairments that would otherwise require (admittedly very cool) adaptations like this is important enough that it's worth doing for that reason alone, but improving safety for everyone's also a worthwhile investment. Both at once? Awesome.
posted by asperity at 7:50 PM on September 20, 2015

Of course we don't want to misjudge what footing an excavator's on, but it does happen, and the operators can be seriously injured in falls.

It's a lot more dangerous to be near an excavator than it is to be inside it. There are definitely applications where robotic or remote controlled excavators are the best and safest tool -- big mining operations, or maybe mass excavation for big civil projects -- but there are a lot more where those are still not the right solution.

Typical construction site work would be something like digging out a foundation and loading the material into trucks, say. The operator needs a view into the ditch and to be able to see the hand signals from the laborer who is hand shoveling around buried utilities, while also sitting high enough to direct the truck traffic and see when each truck is full. They are also "reading" the physical feedback through the machine to know what they are digging into, or when something they are lifting is nearing the machine's capacity.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:09 PM on September 20, 2015

Simulators are pretty sophisticated for this kind of thing. I don't know what the seat of the pants feedback is like but the visuals via Camera are quite good. In theory at least they could be better than a guy sitting in the cab because you can position cameras to avoid blind spots.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 PM on September 20, 2015

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