Self-steering truck set to increase sugar-cane harvest
Volvo Trucks is hoping its new self-steering truck can be a boon to sugar-cane growers in Brazil. The truck is being viewed as a productivity booster thanks in part to its ability to precisely navigate fields without damaging young plants for next year’s crop as it hauls away the current year’s harvest. At present, about 4% of the crop is lost as young plants are run over and the soil is compacted by moving vehicles. This can translate into tens of thousands of U.S. dollars in lost revenue per truck per season.
The truck was developed to examine how automated driving can make it possible to avoid damage to soil and crops, thus boosting revenues. The potential for bigger harvests is significant.
Sugar cane is currently brought in from the fields using harvesters and manually controlled trucks, which drive alongside each other at a low speed. When a truck is fully loaded and drives off to empty its load, the next one moves close to the harvester to repeat the process. The big challenge for truck drivers is to match the harvester’s speed while at the same time fully driving in its tracks so as not to trample the nearby plants that will become the following year's crop.
Volvo Trucks’ solution to this problem is a driver assistance system that automates steering. It is designed to ensure that the truck always maintains exactly the right course when it drives to, alongside, and away from the harvester so that the plants are not damaged by trampling.
The truck follows a coordinate-based map across the sugar-cane field with the help of GPS receivers. Two gyroscopes ensure that not only the front wheels but the entire vehicle is precisely steered to prevent the truck from veering laterally more than 25 mm from its set course. When loading, the driver can choose to regulate speed with the help of the vehicle's cruise control or to accelerate and brake manually. This system is designed to make it is easier for the driver to remain focused and to work throughout the shift in a safer and more relaxed manner.
"With this solution we will soon be able to significantly increase the productivity of our customers in the sugar-cane industry. At the same time, we will improve their drivers' working conditions and safety. This in turn will make the job more appealing, and make it easier to recruit and maintain drivers," says Wilson Lirmann, President of Volvo Group Latin America.
This summer the research project will transition into the product development phase with more vehicles being field-tested. After that, the solution can be expected to become commercially available in the foreseeable future.
The self-steering truck being used for sugar-cane transport is one of Volvo Trucks' research and development projects for automated vehicles. Tests are currently under way on an autonomous truck for mining operations in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden, and an autonomous refuse collection truck is being tested in Gothenburg, Sweden. The aim is to evaluate how systems with different degrees of automation can contribute to higher productivity, a better working environment, and improved safety.