Excavating and installing utilities between the narrow walls of a trench are hazardous. The main causes of accidents are tools and materials that fall into the confined space and the instability of the trench walls if not properly supported. Two research teams from Korea and the US worked for several years on developing technological interventions capable of installing large concrete pipes tele-robotically. A serial mechanism with 2-Degrees of Freedom (DOF) was applied to the "Pipeman" (short for Pipe-manipulator), which was developed at the North Carolina State University (NCSU), and connected to the bucket of the backhoe excavator. The Stewart-Gough Platform, which provides 6-DOF, was adopted for the Stewart Platform-based Pipe Manipulator (SPPM) developed by the Korea Institute of Construction Technology (KICT) and it was directly connected to the boom instead of the bucket. The paper compares how the two research teams solved some of the most unique technical problems and presents the lessons learned during the field tests. Despite the differences between the two prototypes, both systems demonstrated their technical readiness to install pipes in trenches without the presence of laborers. Experiments with actual field personnel not only highlighted the value of involving future users in the evaluation of early prototypes, but also provided reassuring data that the innovative devices will be able to reduce cycle times and cost while increasing the productivity of pipe installation. The ongoing process of adding improvements gives rise to the hope that tele-robotic pipe installation will eventually lead to the elimination of deaths in trenches around the globe. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.