The truck is similar to a project Volvo has undertaken with autonomous mining vehicles, using very similar technology, but programmed for urban use. The truck is first manually driven through the garbage collection route as it maps and records the path and its various stops. Subsequent visits will then be driven by the truck itself, which continuously senses its surroundings to react to changes in the environment.
On the automated runs, the driver can take the truck to its first stop, activate the autonomous system, and get out of the cab. From there, the driver walks ahead, behind, or alongside the truck as needed, pushing bins to the collection port on the truck and returning them to the curb. The truck reverses itself through the route and the operator has no need to continually climb into and get back out of the cab – the most likely points of injury for a refuse worker.
"By reversing the truck," says Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager at Renova, "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."
Reversing the refuse truck is far easier for an automated vehicle than for a human driver. In some areas, reversing a large truck isn't legal or requires a co-driver standing behind the vehicle to guide the driver. An automated truck with a full range of sensors could eliminate those requirements while improving safety.
Volvo says that the technical aspects of an autonomous refuse truck are already in place, but testing and development must continue before it can become a commercial reality. The joint project between Volvo Truck and Renova will continue through the end of 2017. A thorough evaluation of all aspects of the program, including drivers' reactions and public acceptance, will be done. Volvo believes that varying degrees of automation in vehicles is inevitable and is coming sooner to confined areas like mining and cargo terminals than it will to public streets.
You can see the truck in action in the video below. The truck is a single test unit and will be used in the suburbs of Gothenberg, Sweden for the trials.