In a project funded by Volvo, college students have successfully designed a working prototype of a fully automated trash collection system. Working in tandem with a drone that surveys the area, the wheeled garbage collection robot navigates to the location of the trash bin. Utilizing LIDAR along with other proximity and motion sensors, the robot can freely navigate around obstacles.
The truck and robot system can even detect movement and automatically shut down if a dangerous situation presents itself. Named ROAR for RObot based Autonomous Refuse handling, the technology is just beginning to take shape and could possibly put garbage workers out of their job.
Students from Penn State University in the USA, Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University in Sweden have all collaborated on the project to help bring efficiency and automation into the waste collection market.
“Within Volvo Group we foresee a future with more automation,” said Per-Lage Götvall, project leader for the Volvo Group.
Here's how it works: First a drone takes off from the top of the garbage truck and surveys the area pinpointing the locations of each waste bin. This data is wirelessly transmitted to the on-board computer which then dispatches the collection robot. Next, the robot makes its way to the location of the bin, carefully avoiding obstacles on the way.
Once the machine arrives, much like the rollers on drawers, its arms extend and raise the garbage bin. They retract again and the robot deposits the bin for collection on the back of the truck. Check out the video below for a more detailed look into the new technology.
Don't worry about the robot accidentally mistaking your kid for garbage and loading them into the garbage truck, the system shuts down if anything moving gets too close. While the prototype of the robot may look rudimentary at the moment, significant development is scheduled to take place in the first half of this year. By June 2016, a fully functional prototype will be installed on one of the recycling company Renova's garbage trucks.
“This project promises great opportunities for our students to not only engage with a cutting-edge vehicle project, but also to help define how society will interact daily with robotic systems," stated lead of the Penn State team, Sean Brennan.
The question still remains of just how well the new robots can function in a highly diverse traffic-filled environment. One job still remains in the industry, the garbage truck driver. However, with developments in self-driving cars, the technology could be applied to eventually eliminate the need for this job as well.
Autonomization is taking place all around us, and while the push for robotic workers is interesting, it has worried many about the safety of their jobs.
Robot workers will most likely be cheaper than the human alternative, and after all, they don't demand raises. For now though, we can all look on as the ancestors to our future robotic leaders begin to take shape.