Driverless Volvo Trucks to Start Work at Norwegian Mine

The Swedish automaker Volvo Trucks has entered into a deal to rent six autonomous trucks to a Norwegian mining company, which will run a 5-kilometer route.

Volvo announced an agreement with Brønnøy Kalk in which the miner will rent the driverless trucks to transport limestone from an open pit mine to a nearby port and is, in effect, buying a transport solution to suit its business needs. “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,” the mine’s managing director Raymond Langfjord said in a statement.

The vehicles are fully autonomous and are managed from the outside by the operator of the wheel loader and the route includes driving in both tunnels and outdoor environment. “We were searching for a reliable and innovative partner that shares our focus on sustainability and safety,” Langfjord continued. “Going autonomous will greatly increase our competitiveness in a tough global market.”

In a three-minute YouTube video produced by Volvo, the company outlines its strategy, whereby it takes full responsibility for the delivery of the limestone to the crusher. During the current testing phases a safety driver sits in the cab but, in real operation scheduled to begin next year the trucks will be completely autonomous.

“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,” Volvo Trucks director of autonomous solutions Sasko Cuklev said in a statement. “This is all about collaborating to develop new solutions, providing greater flexibility and efficiency as well as increased productivity.”

In October, Volvo announced it would start demonstrating all-electric trucks in California next year, with a view to commercializing them across North America in 2020. The commercial truck division of the Swedish carmaker has been ramping up investment in autonomous technology for some time, resulting in a conceptual self-driving tow vehicle bearing little resemblance to your classic big rig. These autonomous electric vehicles are linked to a cloud service and a transport control center and carry sensors designed to locate their current position to within centimeters.

More than three quarters of transport companies expect autonomous trucks to become a viable option on the roads within the next decade, according to an International Road Transport Union (IRU) survey of 450 participants published earlier this month.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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