Refuse trucks operate in cities and towns. Their operating cycle is typically urban, and with almost a stop at every household to collect refuse. The stop-go operating cycle of a refuse trucks leads to an amount of fuel wastage as well as increases the amount of exhaust gases the truck emits. That is not the only issue with refuse trucks. These trucks also pose a challenge to the driver with their duty cycle. The stop-go operation often results in driver fatigue, and especially in an urban environment. Making a perfect candidate for alternate fuel technologies, like buses, refuse trucks have also been a subject of research for some time now. The effect of their operating cycle on the driver is also prompting companies that build, and operate refuse trucks, to look at making it better and efficient. It does not come as a surprise therefore, that a Swedish waste management company, Renova, and Volvo Trucks, are currently testing an autonomous refuse truck with particular attention to safety. The two are researching on how automated vehicles can contribute to safer, more efficient refuse handling and create a better working environment for drivers. The automated systems being tested are in principle the same as those fitted to the autonomous Volvo truck operating in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden since autumn 2016.
According to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director, Volvo Trucks, that the automated refuse truck is driven manually in a new area for the first time with an on-board system constantly monitoring and mapping the route with the help of 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,” he expressed. Stating the reason behind why his company embarked on this exercise, Almqvist mentioned, “Driving a heavy commercial vehicle in an urban residential area with narrow streets and vulnerable road users imposes major demands on safety, even when the vehicle’s speed doesn’t exceed a normal walking pace. The refuse truck we are now testing continuously monitors its surroundings and immediately stops if an obstacle suddenly appears on the road. The automate system, at the same time, creates better prerequisites for the driver to keep a watchful eye on everything that happens near the truck.” At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way the job is done today by operating the relevant controls. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes and thus always has full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel.
An odd bit is the truck reversing. It is unheard of that a refuse truck reverses as it goes about picking up refuse at every door step almost. There’s a reason why this refuse truck reverse from one bin to the other, said Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager, Renova. He stated, “By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints.” Reversing is otherwise a fairly risky manoeuvre as the driver may find it difficult to see who or what is moving behind the vehicle, even if it is fitted with a camera. In certain areas it is not allowed to reverse a heavy commercial vehicle for safety reasons, in others it is a requirement that a co-driver must stand behind the truck to ensure that the road is clear before the vehicle reverses. In this case, the truck – Volvo FM, is designed to eliminate these issues. Sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, no matter the direction in which the vehicle is moving.
If a car or any other obstacle is blocking the street, the refuse truck will automatically drive around it provided there is enough space. The automated systems, according to Almqvist, optimise gear changes, steering and speed, fuel consumption, and reduces emissions. Said Almqvist, “The technical scope already exists. However, a lot of research, testing and development remains before self-driving refuse trucks can become a reality.” The current project will continue until the end of 2017. It will be followed by an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety, and how well this type of a vehicle is accepted by drivers, other road users and local residents. “Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will probably be introduced earlier in other applications, where transport assignments take place within strictly confined areas such as mines and cargo terminals,” signed off Almqvist.