Is Volvo trying to put garbage collectors out of work? Although it’s early stages, an autonomous robot truck is under development by the European car-maker — already a leader in the development of autonomous automobiles. They claim it will garbage collection safer. There can be no doubt that it’s impressive technology, judging by the demonstration video:
Safety is main goal
Volvo, always known and famous for safety, says the aim of the autonomous robot vehicle is to make the profession of garbage collection safer, with less in-and-out for the driver and virtually no risk of hitting obstacles.
Since the trucks will run on repeatable routes at slow speeds, only the first run will be mapped, making the autonomous programming somewhat easier than, for example, a car flying along an expressway. The concept of multiple sensors around the trucks should actually make them safer than non-autonomous vehicles, since it’s difficult for a driver with mirrors to match sensors.
It makes sense that autonomous (or semi-autonomous) will eventually be safer than a driver with mirrors in a largely obstructed truck, especially when it comes to smaller objects on the street, or sudden changes — such as a child running out on the street.
Volvo is developing the technology in partnership with Renova, a Swedish waste company. Ultimately, Volvo is even looking into using small robots to actually collect the bins.
Why robot garbage trucks?
The project was envisioned for Europe, where many cities have narrow streets, making curb side pickup difficult due to hard-to-navigate obstacles. Sean Brennan from Pennsylvania State University, who worked on the Volvo project, explained:
In much of Europe, there’s no curb-side pick up nor any way to do this easily. The area between the house and the street is often entirely sidewalk and/or bike paths, particularly in cities and suburbs. There is a huge market where nearly all trash collection requires retrieval of a bin down some alley far from the roadside. And the same is becoming true in big cities in the US where curb-side land is at a premium.
When we talked with Swedish trash haulers union, they could not recall any who had ever retired due to age; their job is so hard that they can guarantee that a back, leg, or arm injury will end their career (and often their life thereafter). It is this type of pain and difficulty that we are trying to solve.