September 17, 2015
Volvo Working On Robotic Trash Collectors

Read about it here.

The robots would collect the trash cans to bring to the dump truck. But in many neighborhoods currently you take your trash can to the curb. Then the truck comes along and a sort of forklift comes down from the truck, operated by the driver, to pick up the can. So an autonomous vehicle with cameras and image processing could have computer logic to guide the trash can grabber.

Wheeled robots would be an improvement. They could cruise up a driveway way to grab the trash cans and so would certainly avoid the problem of forgetting to put out the trash at the curb. Though the robots would get attacked by some dogs. I used to have a dog that would try to bite the wheels of a lawn mower when I moved the mower before starting its engine. I can certainly see dogs wanting to bite at a robot.

When does this stuff hit the market? Corporations do not have really long time horizons for investing. So Volvo isn't pursuing a 20 year plan.

A Forrester study expects a 7% net loss of jobs to automation over the next decade. They expect 16% of jobs to be lost but about 9% new jobs yielding the net loss. That is by 2025. Will the rate of advance of robotics development accelerate that fast by 2025?

The Forrester report: The Future Of Jobs, 2025: Working Side By Side With Robots and a Forrester blog post on it.

Those who are skeptical that such a large amount worker displacement is possible should see my blog post: Employment-Population Ratio By Education Level. It has already happened.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 September 17 08:31 PM 

Nick G said at September 18, 2015 9:19 AM:

Two thoughts.

1) Even when garbage bins are at the curb, someone or something still needs to position it for the truck forklift arm to pick it up. So, people or robots are needed even when the trash cans are placed in just the right spot by the homeowner.

2) 7% job loss ove 10 years is only .7% per year. That's way lower than the 2-3% labor productivity growth that we need to match historical levels. Low productivity growth is a large part of slow economic growth over the last 40 years.

Nick G said at September 18, 2015 11:40 AM:

Here's what you really need to automate garbage pickup: a remote control for the truck.

The drivers, and the trash can "movers" rarely operate in parallel. The driver moves the truck (with the movers walking behind) next to a can; the movers position the cans behind the truck; the cans are emptied into the bin by the driver and dropped back down; the movers put the can back to the curb. Rinse & repeat.

Well, the mover(s) could walk in front of the truck and move it forward with a remote control. That eliminates the need for a driver, which is just as good as eliminating the mover, but the tech is far easier to implement.

Why has no one done this??

Nick G said at September 18, 2015 11:43 AM:

Ah, I suppose I know the answer: conventional trucks are all analog: hydraulic, mechanical controls. You need drive-by-wire for remote control, which you tend to get in EVs.

So, clearly we need electric garbage trucks.

Nicus said at September 18, 2015 1:08 PM:

Having robots run up driveways to fetch bins that weren't taken to the curb is overkill. Either customers are too lazy to take garbage to the curb, or perhaps they don't want a pickup that day. Either way, leave it alone. Taken to extreme, maybe the pickup robot should also come into your house and gather trash if you are too lazy to even put it in the waste bin?

My garbage is still handled by a conventional pickup crew, but the recycling bin is picked up by a semi-automated truck. A standardized bin is supplied by the disposal company,and I have to place it, properly oriented, within 5 ft of a designated pickup spot. The auto loader on the truck does the rest without driver assist, except to override the system if perhaps a child or dog is in the way. I see no reason that the target spot couldn't be smaller. Maybe a little parking space painted on the curb would be appropriate. Using standardized bins and specified locations will simplify and hasten automated pickup.

Randall Parker said at September 19, 2015 9:49 PM:

Nick G,

Sure, you need total digital controls. But vehicles are going that way anyway. For example, power steering is switching away from hydraulics in order to save weight. So it becomes digital with electric motors.

My guess is that the garbage trucks could have a engine that runs at a constant RPM to recharge batteries after spikes in power needs. So the truck uses more energy when moving than when picking up trash. The truck runs for too many hours continuously to operate purely off of battery. Though battery swapping during the course of a day is a possibility.


Do you if the auto loader uses a camera to enable it to do automated grabbing of the can?

Nick G said at September 21, 2015 10:13 AM:


Garbage trucks cover very short routes. OTOH, I suppose the arm pickup and the trash compaction would demand more power. It would be interesting to see specs on their fuel consumption and power needs.


Do you know the disposal company or truck manufacturer? Or, could you share the name of the entity that hires them for trash pickup?

Nick G said at September 22, 2015 3:35 PM:

Electric garbage trucks. One Plug-in, and one pure electric:

...the economics are still pretty robust. Wright observes that although itís hard to get solid numbers for a Class 8 garbage truck, they have relatively short lifespans, given the excessive wear and tear (the stopping and starting is brutal on the lifespan of a garbage truck). They chew up brakes, engines, and transmissions. Itís quite variable but they donít get 200,000 miles out of them. Maybe five years.

But with the Wrightspeed system, The running costs are much lower, both maintenance and fuel. You can save about $35,000 per year on fuel per truck and about $20,000 per year in maintenance.

With a compelling value proposition, Wright notes that the company is getting a lot of interest.Getting the market demand for it up to critical mass is not a problem. The problem is scaling up production to meet demand."

"Chicago specified that this ERV must meet the demanding requirements placed on all of its garbage trucks. This included 60 mile range, a payload capacity of nine tons and 1000 pounds per cubic yard of compaction. These specifications make the ERV capable of use anywhere in Chicago. To supply enough electricity to move the truck and power the hydraulics all day, the ERV is equipped with 200 kilowatt-hours of energy, in ten battery packs. Full charge time is 8 hours using the Motiv Universal Fast Charger."

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