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Who wants to drive a garbage truck anyway? Volvo is testing an autonomous solution backwards

Posted May 20, 2017

Autonomous cars are a common subject nowadays. They are right around the corner and soon boring times of driving will be over. However, autonomous drive technology can benefit us much more than just taking us from one part of the city to another. Volvo now is testing autonomous refuse truck in Sweden and it’s a brilliant idea.

Autonomous garbage truck will improve safety and ergonomics while being more environmentally friendly. Image credit: Volvo Trucks

Think about it. Refuse trucks, more commonly known as garbage trucks, have to navigate through narrow streets with cars parked by the side. It is not easy to begin with, but then drivers get tired and may lose focus. There is a problem of ergonomics too – you have to stop and start going again all the time. Machines should be doing repetitive tasks for us. Volvo Trucks partnered with Swedish waste management company Renova to test one autonomous refuse truck, based on the same technology as Volvo truck operating in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden since autumn 2016.

This truck constantly monitors its surroundings and is prepared to break if there is an obstacle, allowing driver to focus on other parts of operating the truck. However, the truck has to be taught at first – when it comes to a new place it is driven around manually so that next time it would know which route to follow and at which bins it has to stop. Interestingly, this truck is better at reversing than going forward.

It works by using GPS and lidar-based system for mapping, positioning and scanning of the area around the vehicle. Image credit: Volvo Trucks

When truck comes to the bin, driver steps out and empties the bin the same usual way. Then he give a command to the truck to go to another bin – truck reverses while the driver is going to the same direction monitoring its path. Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager at Renova, explained that in this way driver remains by the compactor unit and doesn’t have to “repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints”.

It is hard to reverse by an actual driver, because visibility is limited. In fact, in some places it is impossible to do without a co-driver walking behind the truck and looking for obstacles. For a computer, on the other hand, it is really not a big deal, because it can use information from a large number of sensors, situated around the truck.

Autonomous refuse trucks have other advantages as well. They use less fuel, they improve working conditions for the people, they can drive where human drivers generally would not. But, of course, it will take some years until autonomous trucks like this one are more common in every city.


Source: Volvo Trucks

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