Autonomous mega-trucks roar into CES 2021

Industrial vehicle company Caterpillar shows off trucks the size of a two-story house at the world's largest tech conference.

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Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
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A virtual rendering of Caterpillar's enormous autonomous mining truck shows its scale at CES' all-virtual 2021 exposition. 

Screenshot / CNET

If you ever wanted to see a dinosaur-sized autonomous mining truck, Caterpillar has you covered. At the all-virtual CES 2021, the industrial tech and vehicle giant unveiled not only its mammoth self-driving fleet but also new underground tracking systems tested in the Australian outback. 

Touting $2 billion in research and development funds and more than 16,000 active patents, Caterpillar roared into CES' opening day events with its autonomous mining mega-trucks leading its pitch to potential partners.

Watch this: Caterpillar shows off massive autonomous mining trucks at CES 2021

While they aren't as sleek as a new smartphone or as delightfully geeky as a robot prototype, Caterpillar's Autonomous Haul Trucks are about as tall as a two-story house and weigh a staggering 284.6 tons when empty. Fully loaded, the Cat 797F can weigh up to 687.5 tons, or as much as 15 passenger planes. 


Caterpillar's push into autonomous mining vehicles, it said, is aimed at increasing safety and production. 

Screenshot / CNET

But Denise Johnson, group president of Caterpillar's Resource Industries division, said the company came to CES to step outside its reputation as a heavy-equipment manufacturer and showcase its underlying tech portfolio while attracting top-tier talent and partners in the autonomous vehicle space. 

"Incorporating technology into machines and operating environments is the most important thing we can do to keep people safe. We can give machine operators better visibility to what's around them. We can identify when they're fatigued," Johnson said during a Caterpillar press event Monday. "They're already working really hard to squeeze every ounce of productivity from their operations…they can monitor machines and people, manage their performance and in many ways automate the work."

The company is also at CES to push its latest data-sharing subscription product, MineStar Edge, which gives mining companies cloud-based access to real-time operations data built on a fusion of machine learning and AI, Johnson said. 

To get an eyeful of Caterpillar's massive machines, check out CNET Highlights: