What Lies Beneath: Material Classification for Autonomous Excavators using Proprioceptive Force Sensing and Machine Learning

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Fernando, Heshan
Marshall, Joshua
robotics; automation; construction; robotics in construction; autonomous excavation; material classification
The ability of robotic excavators to acquire meaningful knowledge about materials during digging can augment their autonomous functionality, as well as optimize downstream operations in construction and mining. Some material properties, such as rock sizes, can be determined visually, but these methods cannot see what lies beneath. In this work, a classification methodology that utilizes only proprioceptive force data acquired from an autonomous digging system and machine learning algorithms is proposed for excavation material identification. The consistent performance synonymous with autonomous digging systems allows for the use of basic features extracted from the force data for classification. A proof of concept of this novel approach to excavation material classification is demonstrated through a binary classification of rock and gravel materials. Force data were obtained from full-scale autonomous loading trials with a 14-tonne capacity load-haul-dump machine at a mining and construction test facility. Preliminary results achieved a classification accuracy of 90%.