Volvo Trucks has joined forces with Swedish waste management company Renova to test a semi-autonomous garbage truck. Here’s how it works: The first time the truck enters a new area, it’s driven manually while the cameras map the route with assistance from the onboard sensors and GPS. The next time it enters that area, it will know precisely which route to follow.
Once the semi-autonomous driving system is activated, the human driver gets out of the garbage truck and walks ahead of the truck’s path as it backs up to the next trash can. We should point out the garbage truck won’t reverse to the next trash can until the garbage man presses a button mounted on the truck’s side.
Doing so increases productivity as the driver does not have to jump in and out of the seat at each trash bin stop. Safety is also improved as there are fewer risks of an unfortunate accident while maneuvering such a large vehicle on a tight and crowded street. Volvo points out the technology can also reduce fuel consumption and emissions as the truck’s automated system is smart enough to optimize gear changes, speed, and steering.
The technology isn’t brand new as Volvo has been testing it on an autonomous truck in northern Sweden since last fall.
But we shouldn’t neglect the delicate matter of jobs. Most of the garbage trucks are operated nowadays by more than just one person and by implementing the technology on a large scale; many vehicles would likely end up being managed by a single person. Volvo Trucks chief technology officer Lars Stenqvist says the necessary workforce depends on the density of the area.
On the other hand, the developments being made in autonomous driving technologies are also creating new jobs as more and more companies are hiring people to perfect these systems that will likely take over sooner or later.
As with most things in life, there are both good and bad sides to semi-autonomous garbage trucks. With automakers investing heavily in driverless technologies, we’ll all eventually end up being passengers in our own cars. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, it depends on whom you’re asking.
Gallery: Volvo autonomous garbage truck
Safety in focus when Volvo Trucks and Renova test autonomous refuse truck
"Driving a heavy commercial vehicle in an urban residential area with narrow streets and vulnerable road users naturally imposes major demands on safety, even when the vehicle's speed doesn't exceed a normal walking pace. The refuse truck we are now testing continuously monitors its surroundings and immediately stops if an obstacle suddenly appears on the road. At the same time, the automated system creates better prerequisites for the driver to keep a watchful eye on everything that happens near the truck," says Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director,Volvo Trucks.
The first time the automated refuse truck is used in a new area, it is driven manually while the on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The next time the truck enters the same area, it knows exactly which route to follow and at which bins it has to stop.
At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way the job is done today by operating the relevant controls. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver's command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes and thus always has full view of what's happening in the direction of travel. But why reverse instead of driving forward?
"By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having 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," says Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager at Renova.
Reversing is otherwise a fairly risky manoeuvre since the driver may find it difficult to see who or what is moving behind the vehicle, even if it is fitted with a camera. In certain areas it is not allowed to reverse with a heavy commercial vehicle for safety reasons, in others it is a requirement that a co-driver must stand behind the truck to ensure that the road is clear before the vehicle is allowed to reverse. The solution being tested is designed to eliminate these issues. Since sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, driving is equally safe no matter the direction in which the vehicle is moving. And if for instance the street is blocked by a parked car, the refuse truck can automatically drive around the obstruction provided there is sufficient space alongside.
Since the automated systems optimise gear changes, steering and speed, fuel consumption and emissions can also be reduced.
Although the technical scope already exists, a lot of research, testing and development remains before self-driving refuse trucks can become a reality. The current joint project will continue until the end of 2017 and will be followed by an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety and, not least, how well this type of vehicle is accepted by drivers, other road users and local residents. Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will probably be introduced earlier in other applications, where transport assignments take place within strictly confined areas such as mines and cargo terminals.
Facts about the project and the vehicle
- Joint project between Volvo Trucks and Renova.
- Focus on safety, productivity, and working environment.
- Vehicle - autonomous (self-driving) Volvo FM for refuse collection.
- Equipment - GPS and lidar-based system for mapping, positioning and scanning of the area around the vehicle.
- Automatic control of steering, gear changing and speed.
- Automatic stop if an obstacle on the road suddenly appears.