November 9, 2023
Autonomy Technical Manager
At Caterpillar, we create technology solutions that help our customers build a better, more sustainable world. Autonomous, semi-autonomous and remote-control machines. Digital technologies to increase productivity and improve equipment health. It's not just our future – it's the here and now.
Andy V. has been a part of Caterpillar's autonomous journey for 25 years. His first role involved writing implement control software for wheeled tractor scrapers, back when only two to three engineers wrote all the software for the entire machine.
"I interviewed with several companies knowing I wanted to find a job where I could write software and create systems that actually made physical things happen and move, rather than design a computer chip or write some sort of PC software. Caterpillar presented the best opportunities to make that happen. Caterpillar has engineers creating new electronic hardware and software to operate many different machines that customers use in a diverse set of applications," said Andy.
As technology advanced, he later led a group to develop the electronic system of the first motor grader model with electro-hydraulic implements and steering. This work on drive-by-wire systems enabled autonomy on Caterpillar machines. His proudest accomplishment, though, was his responsibility in developing the Command for Hauling system, the complete autonomous mining system hardware and software on Caterpillar's autonomous mining product. This system enabled Caterpillar to implement remote control, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous mining equipment systems – offering unprecedented improvements in operator safety, equipment availability and site productivity.
"I still remember the first time we put a 793F haul truck, weighing more than 350 tons and sitting over 20 feet tall, into autonomous mode and sent it on its way without a driver at our Tucson Proving Ground," said Andy. "It was a little scary and very satisfying to see the hard work everyone had put into the project become very real by seeing that machine drive off and out of sight on its own for the first time."
Andy is currently the Autonomy Technical Manager, the strategic owner for autonomy platform development, from conception to lifecycle management, leading a team of 50-70 engineers and software developers.
The team has accomplished a lot since that first viewing of the autonomous haul truck. With nearly 600 autonomous haul trucks operating at 25 customer sites around the world and surpassing 5.9 billion tonnes of hauled material, it's no secret that Caterpillar's autonomous solutions are continuously progressing, providing increased safety and productivity for our customers.
Even though he has been with Team Caterpillar for over 25 years, Andy still finds excitement when thinking about his future opportunities here.
"Caterpillar is committed to improving and expanding our systems. We aren't just resting on the successes we've had. We are working on the next generation of components and features that will further improve our current autonomy and automation systems but also enable new mining and construction machines and applications," he said.
As for what that future looks like, Andy says he sees Caterpillar utilizing more features, functionality and components from the on-highway products to improve our systems and create new systems that expand into more mining and construction applications. He knows the future is bright and encourages other engineers to consider Caterpillar for their careers.
"Caterpillar is unique in that we have autonomous systems in production, and we are working on next-generation autonomous systems that will create additional customer value. Very few companies have autonomous systems in production creating customer value today. Working here, you can have the tools and resources you need and see your work go into production and make real-world changes."
Fun fact: Andy has formed lifelong friendships with the people who have made the autonomy journey with him at Caterpillar. He plays the drums in a band with other Team Caterpillar employees who work on autonomy and automation projects.