Here’s why quarries and light mining will be the first industries to incorporate Volvo’s autonomous transport systems
After developing steadily, step-by-careful-step, for more than 100 years, the automotive world is currently in the grip of a two-sided revolution.
On the one side, automotive manufacturers are under pressure to reduce emissions by developing electric vehicles. On the other side, manufacturers are striving to reach the Holy Grail of transport – the vehicle/machine that doesn’t need an operator.
While great strides have been taken in the switch to hybrid and all-electric drive, creating autonomous transport is proving a more difficult task to perfect.
Creating solutions capable of maximizing transport efficiency through advanced automation is the goal of an entire industry.
For Volvo Autonomous Solutions, it’s likely to happen first in the controlled world of quarrying and mining.
“Automation has struggled in the mainstream automotive world because they are trying to get autonomous vehicles to work everywhere and safely coexist with all the variables of life – cars, trucks, bikes, people, dogs, cats – you name it,” said Perjohan Rosdahl, head of Off-Road at Volvo Autonomous Solutions.
“Solving all these issues at the same time is proving to be an enormously complex challenge, even for the world’s biggest automotive and technology companies. Our approach is to start small, in a tightly confined environment and build on our successes over time. A perfect place to start is quarries, which have clearly defined load-and-dump locations over generally short circuits.”
The move to autonomous machines will not be as simple as replacing a machine with an operator with an unmanned machine.
Autonomous machines will prompt the automation of the whole process and require a new way of looking at the entire operation.
Volvo Autonomous Solutions was created on January 1, to develop and commercialize autonomous transport solutions for the entire Volvo Group.
As well as providing adapted machines from within the Volvo Group, Volvo Autonomous Solutions will support customers with solutions to autonomous machines’ other challenges, namely the supporting infrastructure, control towers, repair and maintenance, virtual drivers and even run the operations if needed.
“It’s as much about a new mindset as it is about developing autonomous machines,” said Uwe Müller, sales and marketing lead for Off Road Solutions at Volvo Autonomous Solutions.
“We are talking about automating a transport process, not just selling a single machine. Because of that we need to develop a total solution to manage this full process.”
Volvo Autonomous Solutions is working closely with the Volvo Group’s other business areas, particularly Volvo Construction Equipment in the off-road segment. This will ensure that new machines, whether developed specifically to be autonomous – like Volvo’s TA-15 hauler – or traditional operator-based equipment, use the same autonomous drive platforms and coding languages.
This allows them to communicate in the same way, as well as offering the ability to scale up easily. Not all machines will be autonomous, but being ‘autonomous enabled’ allows Volvo Autonomous Solutions to supercharge the standard products into operator-less machines, using its own proprietary drive kit.
The TA-15 – part of the TARA autonomous transport solution from Volvo Autonomous Solutions – is a new machine concept designed to disrupt today’s off-road hauling.
The hauler runs on a battery-electric drivetrain based on shared technology from the Volvo Group. The automation system uses GPS, lidar, radar and multiple sensors. Being autonomous, the TA-15 has no need for a cabin – making for a dramatically new machine profile. Earlier this year, the haul truck won a Red Dot Product Design award.
With a 15 tonne hauling capacity, the TA15 forms part of the wider TARA autonomous transport solution concept, so that a series of the vehicles can be connected together to form a train of machines, for maximum loading and hauling efficiency. The TA15 will be a critical element of the TARA electric and autonomous transport solution.
Developed by Volvo Construction Equipment, the TA-15 has now been handed over for commercialization to Volvo Autonomous Solutions.
Quarries and mines
“To reduce the complexity of the world, we need to standardize the process as much as possible,” Müller said.
“In quarries, we can do this as they are in a confined area, are highly regulated and it’s easier to separate autonomous transport from other processes. Involving loading and dumping, the process itself is simple and repetitive.”
Improved process optimization, lower energy consumption and improved safety are just three of the benefits of autonomous machines.
There are, however, numerous R&D challenges to overcome – and they will be. But it won’t be a technical innovation that makes the breakthrough – that requires changes in legislation and a new mindset as to how the whole process can operate more effectively. Make no mistake, autonomous solutions are coming, and they will be disruptive to current business models.
“We are starting small with less complex use cases and will build on our successes,” Rosdahl said.
“With the right customer partners, the next step could be underground mining and tunnel applications – autonomous machines (especially electric ones) work just as well in the dark as in the light, and it’s good to remove people as much as possible from these hazardous locations. From there we could focus on large earthmoving projects that are still contained, but have more variables to cope with, as our technology becomes more embedded over time