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“Through our co-operation with Boliden, the development of autonomous vehicles is entering an exciting new phase,” said Claes Nilsson, president Volvo Trucks. “This is the first time ever that self-driving trucks are being tested in regular operations underground and the results will provide valuable input to our on-going mission to transform technical breakthroughs into practical customer benefits.”

Volvo pulled the wraps off its autonomous FMX earlier this year, and it said this research and development project is already showing self-driving trucks may offer a significant contribution to increased transport efficiency and productivity in areas such as ports, mines and other geographically limited and well-controlled environments that require a large proportion of regular, repetitive driving

The first test truck will cover a distance of seven kilometres, reaching 1320 m underground in narrow mine tunnels, but over the coming year the operation will gradually increase to include another three similar vehicles.

The vehicles used in the mine are series-built FMX trucks equipped with new functionality, including a system incorporating radar/laser-based sensors. This system was initially used to monitor the mine’s geometry and generate a map of the route the truck has to negotiate. The information was then used to regulate the vehicle’s speed, steering and gear changes.

On every new trip, the sensors are used to continuously scan the area around the truck and further optimise the operation and the route. 

The trucks can operate continuously and, thanks to precise route planning and steady speed, there is no congestion, making it possible to cut loading and unloading times.

In addition, during blasting operations, drivers must usually wait until the mine gallery has been ventilated before the ore can be loaded, but with self-driving trucks there are no such restrictions.

If an obstacle appears near the truck, the vehicle will stop automatically and the transport management centre is alerted. Of the six sensors included in the system, there are always two that monitor the same part of the truck’s surroundings. If a fault occurs with the truck, it can be remotely operated from the transport management centre.

“This is the world’s first fully self-driving truck to operate under such tough conditions,” said Torbjörn Holmström, Volvo Group chief technology officer. “It is a true challenge to ensure everything works meticulously more than 1300 m underground.”

 

Torbjörn demonstrated how safe the truck was by standing in the middle of the mine gallery as the truck approached him – but as he pointed out: “I was convinced the truck would stop, but naturally I felt a knot in my stomach until the truck applied its brakes!”