Volvo Construction Equipment has begun to trial remote-operation of high-lift wheel loaders over a 5G network in complex forestry applications. The company looks to develop safer, more productive timber processes and explore its potential as an enabler for automation.
The unique research project Remote Timber is a collaboration between Volvo CE, Telia, SCA, Mid University Sweden, Skogforsk and Biometria.
The tests at SCA’s timber terminal in Sweden demonstrate that long-distance tele-operation of Volvo’s L180 High-lift wheel loader is possible. Also, by using a closed 5G network, low latency has proven to be a major advantage. It allows operators to perform the sensitive process of picking, loading and organizing logs remotely.
Volvo claims that tele-operation of forestry equipment could improve productivity—allowing one operator to work across multiple sites. Also, the company expects that this process will make operation safer by removing humans from potentially hazardous environments. Moreover, it would improve sustainability through more efficient logistics flows—as loading and unloading of can occur during the night.
“We expect tele-operation to open up far greater opportunities for operators than is currently available. Sometimes it can be difficult to hire people in timber terminals because of their remote locations. But tele-operation allows people to work from any location, no matter the distance, making it a more desirable work setting, with the added advantage of more efficient and sustainable work logistics,” explained Christian Spjutare.
Magnus Leonhardt, Director, Head of Business Development & Innovation at Telia adds: “This partnership is a fine example of how remote control with the latest technology can contribute to more efficient and sustainable construction solutions in the forestry industry. A secure and robust digital infrastructure is crucial for this. The unique technical qualities that 5G offers are also entirely critical, in which extremely quick response times and high capacity enable immediate feedback between operator and machine, which is a prerequisite for being able to safely control machines remotely.”
Remote precision in its grasp
An important aim of this project is the exploration of the requirements, from the operator’s perspective. Because of size variance of timber loads, an accurate and precise lifting process it vital.
As a result, there are a number of cameras and sensors at strategic points around the machine. They transmit real-time data over the Telia 5G network back to the control station. Therefore, the test will explore how to mature the technology while gathering feedback from the operators on the optimum placement of the cameras.
Volvo CE has been exploring the potential for tele-operation across a variety of segments from mining to urban construction. This particular project is testing the technology in its most challenging application yet.
By remote-controlling complex processes like timber lifting, tele-operation becomes an important enabler for automation, allowing for a more gradual integration of the processes for customers.
Spjutare concludes: “This research project gives us an opportunity to test our teleoperation platform in a new application with high precision requirements and learn how the system needs to be designed to meet industry needs. Insights from partial manual and tele-operated management enables us to also take steps towards automation in more complex processes.”