Volvo trialing self-driving refuse truck in an urban environment

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The Volvo Group is testing a pioneering autonomous refuse truck, together with Swedish waste and recycling specialists Renova, that has the potential to be used across the urban environment, improving safety and reducing congestion.

The pilot project explores how refuse vehicle automation can contribute to enhanced traffic safety, reduced congestion in urban areas, improved working conditions for collection crews, and lower environmental impact through reduced fuel consumption and emissions. The first time the autonomous refuse truck is used in a new area, it is driven manually while the onboard system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of lidar 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.

Volvo’s autonomous refuse truck is designed to make the driving safer in built-up areas, particularly when reversing. Sensors continuously monitor the vehicle’s vicinity and the truck stops immediately if an obstacle suddenly appears in its path. The route is pre-programmed and the truck drives itself from one ‘wheelie-bin’ to the next. The driver, who walks behind of the reversing vehicle, can focus on refuse collection and does not have to climb into and out of the cab every time the truck moves to a new bin.

The automated system has the potential to dramatically reduce refuse collection times, increase operational efficiency, and improve the inherent congestion issues caused by large slow-moving vehicles working in urban areas. The autonomous truck also offers major environmental benefits, as gear-changing, steering and speed are constantly optimized for low fuel consumption and emissions. The current joint Volvo-Renova project will continue until the end of 2017 and will be followed by an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety, and how well this type of vehicle is accepted by drivers, pedestrians and other road users, and local residents.

“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,” noted Carl Johan Almqvist, traffic and product safety director at 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.”

To view a video of the autonomous refuse truck in operation, click here. 

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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