Rubbish trucks go driver free

Swedish waste management company Renova has teamed up with  Volvo Trucks to create a driverless garbage truck.  

Working on the same principles as the autonomous Volvo trucks already operating on mine sites in northern Sweden, the futuristic vehicle has the ability to follow the a set route while avoiding obstacles in urban areas.   

Equipped with GPS and lidar-based system for mapping, positioning and scanning of the area around the vehicle, the futuristic truck has automatic control of steering, gear changing and speed as well as the ability to stop before colliding with an obstacle.   

The driver walks in the direction of travel, ahead of the reversing truck, enabling him to keep control of his surroundings at all times.
The driver walks in the direction of travel, ahead of the reversing truck, enabling him to keep control of his surroundings at all times. Volvo Trucks

"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,"  Traffic & Product Safety Director of Volvo Trucks Carl Johan Almgvist said.   

"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," he said.   

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.

After the button is pressed the refuse truck reverses by itself to the next bin on the street.
After the button is pressed the refuse truck reverses by itself to the next bin on the street. Volvo Trucks

The next time the truck enters the same area, it is programmed to know 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.

 "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," Renova, Strategic Development Manager Hans Zachrisson said.  

"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," he said.  

Sensors monitor the truck’s surroundings as it reverses.
Sensors monitor the truck’s surroundings as it reverses. Volvo Trucks

Since sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, the driver is equally as safe behind the vehicle as it moves.

The vehicle also has the ability drive around an obstruction such as a parked car, provided there is sufficient space alongside.     

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 and safety.   

Vehicles with varying degrees of automation are expected to be introduced in other applications, where transport assignments take place within strictly confined areas such as mines and cargo terminals.

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