Volvo Construction Equipment says it has tested remote control technology in its most challenging application yet. The manufacturer is the first in the world to tele-operate a wheel loader over a 5G network in a forestry setting. The demonstration showcased an L180 high-lift wheel loader picking, loading and organizing logs, while its operator safely sat hundreds of miles away.
Volvo partnered with telecom operator Telia, timber and paper manufacturer SCA, Mid University Sweden, Skogforsk and Biometria on the research project. The companies seek to develop safer, more productive timber processes and explore its potential as an enabler for automation.
Remote control processes could allow one operator to work across multiple – and sometimes isolated – sites around the world.
“We expect tele-operation to open up far greater opportunities for operators than is currently available,” says Christian Spjutare, advanced engineering program manager, Volvo CE. “Sometimes it can be difficult to hire people in timber terminals because of their remote locations. But tele-operation 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.”
The technology is also expected to make operations both 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.
“This partnership is a fine example of how remote control with the latest technology can contribute to more efficient and sustainable construction solutions in the forestry industry,” says Magnus Leonhardt, director, head of business development and innovation, Telia. “A secure and robust digital infrastructure is crucial for this. The unique technical qualities that 5G offers are also entirely critical, in which extremely quick response times and high capacity enable immediate feedback between operator and machine, which is a prerequisite for being able to safely control machines remotely.”
Operator Feedback is Critical
Understanding exactly what is required from an operator perspective in making tele-operation a user-friendly and efficient experience is another important component of the project. Because each load of timber can be so varied, it is vital that the lifting process is carried out with pinpoint accuracy and precise handling. As a result, a number of connected cameras and sensors have been placed around the machine to transmit real-time data via the Telia 5G network back to the control station.
Volvo says it will continue to develop the technology through continued testing and operator feedback. While full automation of complex forestry applications may not be possible anytime soon, the research will allow for incremental integration of automated processes for customers.
“This research project gives us an opportunity to test our teleoperation platform in a new application with high precision requirements and learn how the system needs to be designed to meet industry needs. Insights from partial manual and tele-operated management enables us to also take steps towards automation in more complex processes,” says Christian.