Mine tunnels may be the toughest environment the technology has yet faced.
Like its carbuilding namesake, Volvo Trucks is busy developing self-driving technology on it’s mid-range FMX chassis. In what Volvo is describing as “another important step in the development of autonomous vehicles”, it has started a year-long program to test the technology in one of the toughest trucking environments there is: mine tunnels.
Volvo’s self-driving technology uses an array of six radar and laser-based sensors that continuously scan the tunnel walls to build up a picture of the truck’s surroundings, and generate a map of where it needs to go. That data is then used to regulate steering, throttle and gears.
As you can see in the video above, clearances are often minimal, so accuracy is vital to avoid any mishaps. However, Volvo believes such an environment is ideally suited for autonomous vehicles. It claims the system is better able to maintain a steady speed, reducing congestion and improving fuel economy. Also, with no driver in the cab, loading can begin before shafts have been ventilated after blasting.
A single FMX dump truck has entered service in the Boliden mine in Kristineberg, Sweden, driving between the blasting zones up to 3300 feet (1000 meters) below the surface and the crusher up top. Three more trucks will eventually be added to the fleet
Volvo Trucks President, Claes Nilsson, said: “Through our cooperation with Boliden, the development of autonomous vehicles is entering an exciting new phase. This is the first time ever that self-driving trucks are being tested in regular operations underground, and the results will provide valuable input to our ongoing mission to transform technical breakthroughs into customer benefits.”
Volvo already offers a comprehensive range of driving assistance aids across much of its truck range, including adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
Hopefully, these tests will go rather better than its last experiment with a "driverless" dump truck.