Meet Mr. Robot, your friendly neighborhood garbage man

Meet Mr. Robot, your friendly neighborhood garbage man

I’ve written about it before – automation and how it’s changing the industry landscape. Just think back a few short years ago - how many of you, honestly, thought that self-driving cars and trucks and drones were a technology that not only was something we would not see impact us in our lifetimes, but were technologies that didn’t even seem possible?

Today, they are real technologies and are already impacting our daily lives (think your neighbor who is checking up on everyone in the neighborhood with his drone) to technologies being used (such as collision mitigation) as part of truck makers efforts to commercialize the autonomous truck.

Beyond the autonomous truck, which is still probably years away from happening, the drone may have near-term usefulness as companies such as Workhorse have developed delivery drones that can drop packages on your doorstep and then return to a vehicle making other deliveries in the neighborhood.

An artist rendering of Volvo's planned robots.

There is also the potential to automate nearly the entire supply chain down the road, from the time an order is placed online, to a drone picking the item in the warehouse, loading it on a pallet and into a truck, which then drives itself – autonomously – to the delivery point, where is can be delivered by another drone.

Sounds science fiction, right? A few short years ago none of this sounded plausible, but with each passing day it seems more realistic. The technologies exist today.

Now comes word that another sector of our daily lives may be automated. Garbage collection. And I’m not talking about refuse trucks that automatically pick up buckets and dump them.

The Volvo Group is working with Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University in Sweden, Penn State University, and the waste recycling company Renova, on a robotic project called ROAR.

The purpose is to develop “smart transport solutions,” the company said. This particular project is designed to create a robotic trashman.

The goal of Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling or ROAR for short, is to “introduce a robot that, with the help of instructions from a truck’s operating system, can collect refuse bins in a neighborhood, bring them to a refuse truck and empty them,” Volvo said.

A driver would still be in control, but the robot would handle all the heavy lifting.

“Within Volvo Group we foresee a future with more automation,” said Per-Lage Götvall, project leader for the Volvo Group. “This project provides a way to stretch the imagination and test new concepts to shape transport solutions for tomorrow.”
Mälardalens University will design the robot.

“It is exciting that we are combining advanced research with our training in robotics,” said Mikael Ekström, projectleader. “Many students will work on this project, and it is a huge opportunity for them to learn both the technology and how to work in teams and in a real industrial context.”

Chalmers University students will work on the overall operating system and Penn State will supply graphics, communications systems and the control panel.

“Chalmers has for many years developed the technology for the control and coordination of autonomous systems,” said Petter Falkman, associate professor, automation, at Chalmers, “and we see that we can deal with problems of the complex type that waste handling entails.This will be a fun and challenging project for our driven researchers and motivated students.”

“We’re very lucky to have an amazing cohort of students who are well trained in automation technologies,” added Sean Brennan, lead of the Penn State team. “This project promises great opportunities for our students to not only engage with a cutting-edge vehicle project, but also to help define how society will interact daily with robotic systems.”

A test robot should be operational sometime next summer and will be tested on a vehicle developed by Renova.  

“For many years Renova has been a leader in the development of vehicle technology dedicated to fostering a better environment and work environment,” said Hans Zackrisson, development manager at AO Logistics, Renova Environment. “This project shows the exciting possibilities for the future.”

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