Yanmar Builds An Electric Space Excavator

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Last week, Yanmar unveiled a cutting-edge electric excavator concept with advanced “force control” at the Construction DX Challenge 2023. And, if everything goes as planned, a very similar machine could end up working in space one day soon!

  • Test development of force control function using a large SEA that can be mounted on construction machinery.
  • Development of a prototype incorporating this technology into a mini-excavator as part of the Moonshot Research and Development Program.
  • Mechanization of delicate work in civil and construction sites, contributing to the labor-saving of material placement operations.
  • Implementation of an articulated motor, not a conventional electric cylinder, to expand the range of motion through electrification, enabling high-altitude work like ceiling operations.

Yanmar Series Elastic Actuator (SEA)

From left: The large Series Elastic Actuator (SEA) developed in cooperation with JAXA; Realizing an expanded range of motion through the adoption of joint motors.

Yanmar developed the excavator concept in collaboration with the JAXA Space Exploration Innovation Hub Center. The key component is a large SEA (Series Elastic Actuator), which is considered a key component in next-generation work machines by the JAXA’s Moonshot Research and Development Program. The Yanmar concept successfully implemented exact force control capabilities, which is a challenge for the conventional hydraulic systems used in “modern” heavy equipment.

Using the SEA, composed of a full sensor suite monitoring a powerful electric motor, reducer, and spring, the force control functionality was proved out in the electric mini-excavator (shown, at top).

This technology on display here will help to add intelligence to the machines, making them more capable of identifying unexpected changes in ground density and eventually automate more of the fine manual tasks currently being held up by an industry-wide labor shortage at construction sites. Moving forward, Yanmar plans to conduct further verification tests that can realize practical applications of next-generation work machines in construction sites and similar environments … and, of course, in harsh environments that are not friendly to human habitation (think: mines, meteors, etc.).

And, yes — I did write this story because I can clearly hear Marvin the Martian saying “Yanmar SAE Force Control Spaced Ex-ca-va-tor!” I’m a child.

Source | Images: Yanmar HD.

About Moonshot Research and Development System (Cabinet Office).

Reference: Joint Research Results Verification Experiment on Control Technology of Construction Machinery for Moon Base Construction (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Space Exploration Innovation Hub Center, September 21, 2023)

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