Autonomous trucks have begun work in a limestone quarry in Norway, signalling the early tests of Volvo’s new autonomous transport service due to be fully operational in 2019.
Six trucks are working for Norwegian mining enterprise Brønnøy Kalk AS. The autonomous vehicles transport limestone materials down a five kilometer long tunnel to a stone crusher.
This is not the first time Volvo have tested the commercial applications of their autonomous fleet of vehicles, but it does represent a different commercial approach when offering an industrial AI vehicle service.
Brønnøy Kalk AS has not purchased the six trucks off Volvo, but have instead rented them as part of a Volvo total transport solution. In this case Brønnøy Kalk AS are paying Volvo to transport lime from one location to another. Volvo receives payment for each tonne of lime successfully delivered to the crusher.
This is quite a clever approach by Volvo as one of the biggest turn offs when it comes to adopting new technologies is the initial set up cost. In the mining industry the price of equipment is significant and the purchase of six autonomous trucks using a nascent technology may just not be feasible for most enterprises.
Raymond Langfjord Managing Director at the mine where the vehicle tests are being carried out commented in a released statement that: “The competition in the industry is tough. We are continuously looking to increase our efficiency and productivity long-term, and we have a clear vision of taking advantage of new opportunities in technology and digital solutions.”
“We were searching for a reliable and innovative partner that shares our focus on sustainability and safety. Going autonomous will greatly increase our competitiveness in a tough global market.”
Volvo has been testing their autonomous truck technology in different sectors over the last few years. The company partnered with Swedish waste removal experts Renova to trial autonomous garbage trucks in urban environments.
They also operate self-steering trucks in Brazil where farmers used the trucks to protect young sugarcane crops from been rolled over by human error. The trucks used GPS and gyroscopes to maintain a course that never deviated more than 25 mm off the set route.
Of course a human sat at the wheel during the trials and Volvo stated that the new technology is there to enhance safety and improve working conditions. Yet it is hard to overlook the business savings if companies can get to the point where the human is removed altogether from the driver’s seat.
A scenario that will most likely impact the mining industry long before it does any enterprise working in populated areas.
Sasko Cuklev Director Autonomous Solutions at Volvo Trucks commented in released statement that: “By working in a confined area on a predetermined route, we can find out how to get the best out of the solution and tailor it according to specific customer needs.”
This also means that the autonomous vehicles can run uninterrupted along pre-set routes with limited chance of unexpected human obstacles getting in the way. When the limestone trial reaches fruition the human driver in place for safety concerns will be removed and the trucks will operate fully autonomously.