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Volvo tests autonomous garbage trucks

Volvo Trucks is testing and researching how automated vehicles can improve safety.

DPCcars reported the company is working with Swedish waste management organisation Renova using similar systems to those fitted in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden since autumn 2016.

The devices uses a GPS and lidar-based system, which is said to allow for mapping, positioning and scanning of the area around the vehicle.

The automated refuse truck also features automatic control of steering, gear changing and speed and an automatic stop if an obstacle on the road appears suddenly.

“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,” said Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director, Volvo Trucks.

“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.”

The automated refuse truck is driven manually the first time it is in a new area, while the on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The truck knows which route to follow and at which bins it has to stop the next time it enters the area.

At the first stop, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it in a standard process.

Once completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin after receiving the driver’s command. The driver takes the same route as the truck to maintain full view in front of him.

“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,” said Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager at Renova.

Reversing is otherwise a 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. DPCcars reported the solution being tested has been designed to eliminate these issues. Sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, ensuring driving is equally safe no matter the direction in which the vehicle is travelling. If the street is blocked by a parked car, the refuse truck can automatically drive around the obstruction provided there is sufficient space alongside.

DPCcars reported that 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 a thorough evaluation of functionality, safety and community and driver consultation. Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will be introduced earlier in other applications, where transport assignments take place within strictly confined areas such as mines and cargo terminals.