It’s Minecraft meets The Last Starfighter.

The popularity of eSports continues to grow as many young gamers polish their skills to one day be able to compete at the professional level. But as with any competitive circuit, only a select few will ever be able to elevate themselves to levels of perpetual success. For the rest, that leaves little to fall back on with all the years of honing skills at killing Baron Nashor.

Or does it?

At the end of October, the e-Construction Machinery Challenge Competition was held in Roppongi, Tokyo. In this tournament, five teams competed at remotely piloting construction equipment from about 70 kilometers (43 miles) away at a training ground of the Chiba Boso Technical Center in Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture.

▼ News report on the competition

Each team consisted of two operators and one supervisor as they piloted excavators and dump trucks to move large amounts of soil in the shortest amount of time. Teams were made up of people experienced with such equipment as well as university students and eSports competitors. In the end, the Chiba Fire Rescue team won the grand prize, but it was the addition of the eSports contestants that the organizers at the Transportation Digital Business Conference (TDBC) were really interested in.

Population decline is proving to be a challenge for the construction industry and the TDBC is taking a two-pronged approach by both making machinery operation more efficient and attractive to younger people.

During the tournament, tests were conducted to see how well conventional gamepads or joysticks used in gaming could be adapted to operating real heavy machinery such as cranes or excavators and the results were encouraging. This would suggest that a smooth transition from professional gamer to construction worker could become a fairly seamless one.

▼ The entire tournament can be viewed on YouTube and also shows the gamepad testing, but is about three hours long.

And thanks to the operation being done remotely, a single operator can work at multiple sites from a single office, making up for a shortage in available labor. The TDBC also hopes that by attracting eSports talent to the field of construction, its image as a dirty, hard, and dangerous occupation can be replaced with a cooler and more sophisticated reputation.

▼ I don’t know, these guys still look pretty cool to me.

The thought intrigued online commenters who weren’t even involved in eSports, but there was also a lot of skepticism over whether such a marriage of gaming and construction would really work out.

“That’s a neat bridge between eSports and construction.”
“I wonder if you can work internationally as well and make a killing in an Australian mine.”
“And they let you use your own controller?!”
“That’s good because I think if you put a gamer on an actual construction site there might be problems.”
“I wonder how effective it can be online. You really have to be able to see all your surroundings to be effective.”
“I think I remember the construction industry thinking about adopting the PS gamepad a while back.”
“Heavy machinery is very dangerous and shouldn’t be treated like a game. People can die out there.”

Of course, making the move from pro-gamer to machine operator isn’t just a matter of changing chairs. The industry is currently working with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on a training and licensing program because one currently doesn’t exist for remote controlled vehicles.

In addition to construction, this technology is hoped to be useful in disaster areas that are dangerous or difficult for people to enter. Rather than sending transport excavators and operators across damaged roads to an earthquake-hit area, the equipment can just be logged on to remotely and get right to work.

Not only that, but we’ve also seen how Japan is involved in NASA’s project Artemis with a long-term goal of building a base on the Moon. Needless to say, that’s going to require some remote equipment operators, so it might be good to get in on the ground floor of all this. That’s why I’m dusting off my old Mad Catz controller with the slow motion function that was really just pausing and unpausing the game really fast.

Source: The Sankei News, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Wikipedia/Charles Clyde Ebbets
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