A refuse-collecting robot

Volvo Group Australia Pty Ltd

Monday, 29 February, 2016

A refuse-collecting robot

The Volvo Group is working on a joint venture, together with three universities and waste recycling company Renova, to develop a robot that automatically collects and empties refuse bins, with the help of a drone on the roof of the refuse truck.

The idea is that when it is time to begin waste collection, the driver of the refuse truck presses a button. This starts the robot and lifts the drone from the roof of the truck. Flying through alleyways, the drone quickly finds the location of the refuse bins and communicates their positions to the robot. This is followed by automatic waste collection and emptying by the robot. In the cab, the driver is able to monitor the exact location of the robot and the emptying process.

A prerequisite for the robot’s work is that it already knows the neighbourhood in the form of a map of both the manoeuvrable area and likely bin locations. The robot then uses a number of different sensors to keep itself positioned within this map, enabling it to automatically perform its tasks. The sensors include GPS, LiDAR, cameras and IMU data, which uses accelerometers and gyroscope for navigation as well as odometry, where motion sensors measure the position changes over time.

Many of the robot’s sensors are also used to ensure safety. One example is an emergency button, which immediately stops the robot if, for example, a child or a dog runs out in front of it. Another example is a camera on the truck that detects if someone comes too close while the bins are being emptied. If this occurs, the process automatically stops.

It took the students and researchers from the three participating universities four months to design and build the prototype robot that automatically collects and empties the refuse bins. Sweden’s Mälardalen University was responsible for designing the robot itself, while Chalmers University of Technology developed systems for bin detection, safe emptying and overall system coordination. Meanwhile, Penn State University in the US developed the web-based 3D interface that allows the driver to monitor the situation and, if need be, control the robot.

The project, called ROAR (Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling), demonstrates how smart machines will soon be able to communicate with each other to facilitate everyday life in a large number of areas — not just refuse handling.

“We predict a future with more automation,” said Per-Lage Götvall, project manager for robot development at the Volvo Group. “This project is intended to stimulate our imagination, to test new concepts that may shape transport solutions of the future.”

Illustration: Adrian Wirén, Mälardalens Högskola.

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