AI News, Trash Hauling Robots Are Cool, But Do We Really Need Them?

Trash Hauling Robots Are Cool, But Do We Really Need Them?

Volvo Group is partnering with Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University in Sweden, Penn State University, and Renova (a Swedish waste recycling company) to “develop a robot that interacts with the refuse truck and its driver to accomplish the work.” The concept image above shows some mobile manipulators capable of lifting heavy loads and dynamically navigating (and balancing) in an unstructured environment.

I kind of feel like this is one of those situations where, if you’re Volvo, you can put a substantial amount of effort into designing some mobile manipulator to drive up people’s driveways, find their trash bins, figure out how to grab and (if necessary) lift them, carry them to the truck, dump them, and then put them back where they belong.

Or, you can just make sure everyone has standardized trash and recycle bins, ask them to spend 30 extra seconds putting them down by the street, and then just adapt existing technologies to make garbage trucks with those grabby arm thingies completely autonomous.

The dawn of robot garbage men is upon us

As robots threaten to snatch all the good bellhop and sous chef gigs away from sentient beings, garbage collectors in Sweden, a country with very little garbage to begin with, also now have good reason to worry about the future of their given profession.

Functioning as a separate corporate entity from the iconic Swedish carmaker of the same name for over a decade, Volvo Group focuses exclusively on the manufacture of trucks, buses, construction equipment and vehicles used in the collection of household waste — vehicles traditionally manned by small teams of humans.

Described by project lead Per-Lage Götvall, as 'a way to stretch the imagination and test new concepts to shape transport solutions for tomorrow,' Volvo Group explains the basic purpose of ROAR: I’m not entirely sure how a fleet of trash can-toting wheeled machines zipping around a neighborhood at the crack of dawn would necessarily be quieter or more discreet.

Functioning as a sort of on-demand garbage man that went door-to-door collecting household trash, DustCart was conceived as a less noisy alternative to conventional garbage trucks that often have difficulty navigating the charming — but prohibitively tight — streets of small Italian towns.

Volvo Takes the Right First Step in Autonomous Garbage Collection

In September of 2015, Volvo announced that it was developing a robot designed to pick up trash bins and take them to a garbage truck.

Navigating a large vehicle around tight urban and suburban streets while driving backwards is tricky even with practice, and there are severe limits on what the driver is able to see, even if the vehicle is outfitted with rear cameras.

Simply put, this particular task is one where an autonomous system seems like most of the time it can perform better than even an experienced human, and it’sone where there are plenty of ways for the system to safely fail, whether by coming to an immediate stop or handing control back to the attending human.

Volvo plans on continuing this project (in partnership with Swedish waste management company Renova) until the end of 2017, at which point there will be “an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety and, not least, how well this type of vehicle is accepted by drivers, other road users and local residents.”

Regarding Volvo's long term vision of using little robots to pick up bins and bring them to the truck, we're still somewhat skeptical, but I'd like to share a comment thatSean Brennan from Pennsylvania State University (a collaborator on that project) left on our original post, explaining why mobile robotic trash collectors are not necessarily a crazy idea: In much of Europe, there's no curb-side pick up nor any way to do this easily.

New Wall-E style robot aims to make our streets cleaner

There has often been a disconnect between the kind of robots depicted in popular culture with the kind of robots that have gained traction in modern life.  For instance, the robot used in the Hollywood blockbuster Wall-E has more in common with ET than most robots in action today.

“This project provides a way to stretch the imagination and test new concepts to shape transport solutions for tomorrow.” The project team will continue developing the prototype further, before it is hopefully deployed on a vehicle designed by Renova in the summer of 2016.

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