Autonomous Volvo Truck put through paces live

By: Cobey Bartels, Video by: Cobey Bartels

Owner//Driver attended a successful live demonstration in June of Volvo Trucks’ autonomous refuse truck in Gothenburg, Sweden.


Autonomous trucks are a contentious topic and one that can seem worlds away but after seeing an autonomous truck in action, the technology is here and we can tell you it works.

In 2017 Volvo Trucks partnered with Swedish waste management company Renova to test and research the use of autonomy in the refuse handling industry, with a focus on delivering improved safety, efficiency and a better working environment for operators.

So far, the vehicle has been put through its paces in real working conditions and it has proven successful in its testing.

The autonomous model looks much the same as a typical refuse truck, but with some added sensors

The live demonstration in Gothenburg invited journalists from around the world to see the truck’s functionality, with a chance to get a closer look in and around the vehicle.

Volvo Trucks Director of Autonomous Solutions Sasko Cuklev explained how the truck operates safely in urban areas, using a combination of sensors as well as an initial drive of the route.

"It works like this; the first time you do a route you drive it and we record the route. After that we will be able to drive it (autonomously)," Cuklev said.

"When we do the autonomous driving, we drive up to the first bin, the driver empties the first bin, but rather than driving to the next bin, he or she walks and the truck follows."

Volvo's platooning technology put to the test. Check out the ride along video here.

Volvo Trucks Technical Project Leader of Automated Trucks Johan Tofeldt insisted to the crowd of journalists just prior to the demonstration that there were no remote controls or hidden drivers; the truck was truly operating by itself.

"With autonomous mode, the truck will be driving by itself and there will be no hidden driver, no hidden remote control, it’s completely self-driving," Tofeldt said.

Tofeldt explained how the truck is able to operate with the operator outside the cab, using a complex array of inputs ranging from GPS to lidar sensors.

"The small black boxes in the corner of the truck, they’re lidars. They look at the surrounding environment at all times and compare that to a map.

"It also calculates its positon using the wheel speed and steering angle, and it uses the GPS system. It calculates the position in many different ways and as long as it’s all in agreement we are confident that we know where we are.

"We can also see on the side of the truck there is a green light that starts to flash. That’s when we are in a safe mode for the operator to go around the truck," he said.

Lidar sensors are used to spot obstacles and hazards

While the truck is autonomous, there is still an emergency stop button the operator has access to from outside the cab where visibility is better than a traditional driving position.

"It also allows for him to be in the correct position…to see if there is any problem or an obstacle so he can always press an emergency stop button," he said.

The benefits of this system, Tofeldt told us, are three-fold and this is only one of many ways autonomous technology can be implemented in trucks.

"This technology can be used for many different purposes, but this one is going from one trash bin to the next trash bin autonomously so the driver doesn’t need to step into the cab.

"It’s a win- win-win situation; it’s a better work environment, they don’t jump in and out of the cab. It’s also safer because the truck itself will refuse to hit an obstacle."

The truck set off and successfully demonstrated the range of autonomous functions it’s capable of, wowing the crowd but more importantly proving it can be done.

This isn’t a truck that will drive from Sydney to Melbourne and take the job of interstate drivers; it’s a truck that is built for a specific purpose that requires a more efficient transport solution.

The beginnings of autonomous trucks are here and the Volvo and Renova partnership is proof self-driving vehicles can be used commercially to not only improve productivity and safety, but also the quality of work for operators.

A high-tech interior suggests this is no ordinary truck

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