Volvo's drone-guided garbage-lifting robot is now a working prototype

First announced back in September, Volvo's concept of a small, autonomous robot that picks up and empties trash bins now has a working prototype. The project is dubbed "Roary," for Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling, and also involves waste recycling company Renova, as well as universities in Sweden and the US.

In the last four months, the concept has expanded to include the use of a drone that takes off from the top of a traditional garbage truck. This small UAV acts as the eyes in the sky for the lifting robot, identifying cans that need to be emptied and transmitting their location.

Then it's Roary's task to collect the bins and empty their contents into the garbage truck. It relies on a number of sensors for navigation and lifting duties, including GPS, cameras, infrared radar, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. Plus it's capable of navigating around obstacles.

Before deploying the robot and drone, the researchers must map out the neighborhood and roads where the prototype is tested, and include them in the robot's software. This not only helps it understand the likely locations of bins, but also plan its route and perform its tasks automatically. During this time, the truck driver is monitoring the robot and its progress, and can remotely shut it down in the event of a problem.

Members of Volvo's robotics division say envision automation becoming much more common in the near future. Applying the technology to garbage collection seems like a perfect fit, as it's a task that few people would be interested in doing, and it could one day be done more discreetly than the trucks with loud mechanical claw arms in wide use today.