Israeli construction giant teams up with startup to build smart cranes

Solel Boneh, a subsidiary of Shikun & Binui, announces joint effort with IntSite, a Haifa-based developer of autonomous cranes for building sites

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative view of cranes against a skyline (fanjianhua , iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative view of cranes against a skyline (fanjianhua , iStock by Getty Images)

A construction unit of one of Israel’s leading infrastructure companies, Shikun & Binui Ltd., is teaming up with an Israeli startup to jointly create smart cranes using artificial intelligence technology.

Solel Boneh Building & Infrastructure Ltd., a subsidiary of Shikun & Binui, announced a cooperation agreement with IntSite, a startup founded in 2017 that develops autonomous cranes for construction sites using Internet of Things devices, machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing technologies. The idea is to increase cranes’ productivity and safety and cut costs.

Under the agreement, Shikun & Binui will help develop IntSite’s “revolutionary artificial intelligence technology.” The construction firm hopes the funds it allocates to the development of the cranes will help it maintain and even boost its strategic competitive edge in the local market and globally, the company said in an emailed statement.

Shikun & Binui, which has a market cap of some $716 million, set up an innovation program in 2015 called BuildUp, which focuses on identifying and implementing innovation in its production processes — from designs to workflows and products and communications with customers — in the areas of energy and water, infrastructure and construction.

Tzach Ram-On, CEO of IntSite which wants to develop smart cranes (KHL Group)

The announcement comes as Israel hopes to leverage its technological prowess to revolutionize the highly regulated, conservative and traditional building industry and make the country a global leader in the field.

The Israel Builders Association — which represents some 2,000 construction companies working in Israel — has teamed up with the Construction Ministry, the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and SOSA, a company that connects startups with investors and corporations, to set up the Construction Innovation Zone, which aims to bring new technologies to cranes, planning and building procedures, and infrastructure.

“In the next few years, Solel Boneh will allocate significant resources for the innovative development of autonomous cranes to be used on construction sites, in order to increase the use of groundbreaking technologies in our projects and the entire field,” said Solel Boneh’s VP Business Development, Shlomi Assaraf, in a statement.

Cranes were invented by the ancient Greeks and they haven’t changed much since, IntSite says in a video posted on its website. Using what it calls “crane-time” is one of the heaviest costs in the building industry. In addition, the operators and the signal men who operate the giant machines work in unpredictable environments and need to make real time decisions as events develop, which makes them prone to errors. The company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning processes to support human decisions, and help cuts inefficiencies of crane-time use by 20 percent, the company says.

“We are confident that with our partner, bringing autonomous cranes to  construction sites is a viable vision, and we aspire to be that world-leading company to introduce this technology to the construction and equipment industry,” Tzach Ram-On, the CEO of IntSite, said in the statement.

Ram-On, a construction engineer, co-founded the company with his brother Mor Ram-On, an aeronautical engineer. Both of them are graduates of the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. The Haifa-based company is at the seed stage of development.

Solel Boneh specializes in constructing roads, bridges and interchanges, public buildings and shopping centers.

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