Volvo CE tests world’s first remote-operated, high-lift wheel loader for forestry applications
Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is now the first in the world to trial a remote-controlled high-lift wheel loader over a 5G network in a complex forestry application in a bid to develop safer, more productive timber processes and explore its potential as an enabler for automation.
The research project Remote Timber is a collaboration between Volvo CE and the telecom operator Telia, timber and paper manufacturer SCA, Mid University Sweden, Skogforsk and Biometria. The tests at SCA's timber terminal in Torsboda, Sweden, have demonstrated that it is possible to teleoperate a Volvo L180 high-lift wheel loader from hundreds of kilometers away.
By using a closed 5G network, low latency has proven to be a major advantage, allowing operators to perform the sensitive process of picking, loading and organizing logs remotely.
Teleoperated forestry is expected to deliver improved productivity by allowing one operator to work across multiple - and sometimes isolated - sites around the world. It is also expected to make it safer, by removing humans from potentially hazardous environments, and more sustainable, through more efficient logistics flows as the loading and unloading of timber can also be done during the night.
Christian Spjutare, Advanced Engineering Program Manager at Volvo CE, says: "We expect teleoperation 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 teleoperation 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."
An important aim of the research project is to explore exactly what is required from an operator perspective in making teleoperation a user-friendly and efficient experience. Because each load of timber can be varied - from an unwieldly pile of heavy logs through to just a few short pieces of wood - it is vital that the lifting process is carried out with pinpoint accuracy and precise handling.
As a result, there are currently a number of connected cameras and sensors located at strategic points around the machine that transmit real-time data via the Telia 5G network back to the control station. The test will explore how to mature the technology and gather vital feedback from the operators on the optimum placement of cameras for handling precision.
Volvo CE has been exploring the potential for teleoperation across a variety of segments from mining to urban construction, with this project testing the technology in its most challenging application yet. By remote-controlling processes like timber lifting - which are currently too complex to be fully automated - teleoperation becomes an important enabler for automation, allowing for a more gradual integration of automated processes for customers.
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