Watch Volvo's autonomous truck navigate itself through a dark mine
Earlier in the year, Volvo unveiled a fully autonomous construction truck that it planned to test in underground mines and that it said would "revolutionize the mining industry." Today, it has revealed more details of the planned testing and released footage of the truck operating beneath the Earth's surface.
The Volvo FMX is part of a research project aimed at improving safety and productivity in places like mines, ports and other restricted and controlled environments that have a lot of repetitive driving.
The testing will take place at the Boliden mine in Kristineberg, Sweden. The FMX, which Volvo says is actually the first autonomous truck in the world to be tested underground, will cover a distance of 7 km (4 mi) into the mine and will reach a depth of 1,320 m (4,330 ft).
Six sensors, including GPS, radar and LiDAR, are fitted to the truck to continuously monitor its surroundings. The system creates a map of the mine's geometry and uses it to create a route through the tunnels for the truck to follow, as well to inform steering, gear changes and speed. Each visit allows the truck to further refine its model of the mine and to subsequently optimize its route and fuel consumption.
Of the sensors fitted to the truck, at least two – and often three – are said to be able to monitor any point of its surroundings at any given time. In the event that an obstacle is detected, the truck will stop and contact its control center. To demonstrate this, Volvo has released a video showing member of the Volvo Group's executive board and its chief technology officer Torbjörn Holmström standing in the path of the truck.
"No matter what type of vehicle we develop, safety is always our primary concern and this also applies to self-driving vehicles," says Holmström. "I was convinced the truck would stop, but naturally I felt a knot in my stomach until the truck applied its brakes."
Volvo says the technology employed will ultimately help to optimize mining logistics. Such trucks will be able to operate continuously, eliminate congestion and cut the time taken for loading and unloading. In addition, the trucks need not wait for mines to be ventilated after blasting to continue operating, unlike people.
The testing at Boliden is due to begin soon and Volvo says it plans to have three such trucks being tested within a year.