Volvo Group and Swedish waste and recycling specialist Renova are testing an autonomous refuse collection truck that potentially could be used across the urban environment.
The joint project, which runs until the end of the year, is exploring how automation can contribute to enhanced traffic safety, improved working conditions and lower environmental impact.
Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer at Volvo Group, said: “There is amazing potential to transform the swift pace of technical developments in automation into practical benefits for customers and, more broadly, society in general. Our self-driving RCV is leading the way in this field globally, and is one of several exciting autonomous innovations we are working [on] right now.”
Volvo’s autonomous refuse truck is designed to make driving safer in built-up areas, particularly when reversing. Sensors continuously monitor the area around the vehicle and it stops immediately if an obstacle suddenly appears in its path.
The route is pre-programmed and the truck drives itself from one wheelie bin to the next. The driver, who walks ahead of the reversing vehicle, can therefore focus on collecting refuse and does not have to climb in and out of the cab every time the truck moves to a new bin.
“One important benefit of the technology is a reduction in the risk of occupational injuries, such as wear in knee joints – otherwise a common ailment among staff working with refuse collection,” explains Stenqvist.
According to Volvo, the autonomous RCV also offers environmental benefits: gear changing, steering and speed are optimised for low fuel consumption and emissions.
The autonomous truck currently being tested is fitted with a sensor system for identification, navigation and monitoring of the vehicle’s vicinity. Most of the technology used in the RCV trial is also being used in an autonomous truck for mining operations that Volvo Group unveiled in 2016. This is undergoing testing in the Kristineberg mine in northern Sweden.
POSITIVE REACTION FROM STAKEHOLDERS
Hayder Wokil, autonomous and automated driving director at Volvo Trucks, answers MRW’s questions
- What factors led to this project being set up?
To increase productivity and safety.
- What impact do you think automated RCVs will have on health and safety, productivity and the general working environment?
A positive impact on all these factors.
- What have initial findings from the testing and research shown?
Once we run the project in real life for a while we will be able to identify the findings.
- What size crew do you expect to be operating these automated vehicles?
As we did with the demo, only one operator/driver.
- How do you see the role of the driver and crew changing if such vehicles were introduced?
Depending on the results from the project, the driver can cover both driving of the truck and the waste collection. This is still to be assessed.
- How does the driver give the command to the vehicle once one operation is complete and he needs to move to the next bin?
With the prototype, there was a control panel which the driver could use to activate and deactivate the system, but this will not necessarily be the final solution.
- What has been the initial reaction to the trial?
All stakeholders are positive about the project.
- What would happen if an error or fault occurred mid-collection?
Safety is essential before we commercialise any features. If we are not confident that any system is fulfilling our high safety requirement, we will not release that feature to the market.
- Do you see such a system being used only for household collections or for commercial collections as well?
It is too early to answer.