Testing a remote-controlled tractor at Caterpillar’s Proving Ground

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Heart of Illinois ABC) - Caterpillar relies on its Proving Grounds to test out the latest and greatest technology, and one of them is located in central Illinois.

One of just a handful in the world, Washington’s Proving Ground hosts several prototype testing operations, including remote-controlled equipment.

Some of the medium tractors on site aren’t operated by a driver - instead, every part - from the wheels to the blade - is moved from a control room.

“I’m sitting inside in the air-conditioning running a machine … I’m not walking out into a muddy field to go jump on my machine. There’s a lot of stuff that’s good for an operator,” test operator Tim Pennington said.

The Proving Grounds, which are located in the U.S., Japan, China, and India, act as a platform for what Caterpillar calls the ‘machine development phase’.”

“We work out all the bugs and issues before we want to get those (machines) into a production environment,” validation team lead Joel Miller said.

“It’s just amazing how many people it takes to figure out how to torque a bolt just right, or do the little stuff to make the machine the best in the world,” Pennington added.

The remote-control operating system works similarly to an arcade-style video game. The operator can use the right joy stick to move the blade of the tractor up and down, then the left joystick to move the machine.

Caterpillar's remote operating system allows the tractor driver to control the machine from a...
Caterpillar's remote operating system allows the tractor driver to control the machine from a more comfortable setting.(25 News / Heart of Illinois ABC)

“There is a little bit of a learning curve – three-to-four hours. It’s just focusing your eyes on the different camera views and stuff like that,” Pennington said.

Caterpillar says the Proving Ground is more than just a place to test out equipment - it is stepping stone into the future of machinery.

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