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Volvo Puts 5G to Test with Remote Control Loader

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Volvo remote control.
Volvo tests remote control over 5G from the control station at Torsboda Timber terminal.

Volvo Construction Equipment is test-operating a remote-controlled wheel loader over a 5G network in a forestry application. Volvo suggests that the application may help improve safety and productivity in timber operations.

The research project, Remote Timber, is a collaboration between Volvo, telecom operator Telia, timber and paper manufacturer SCA, Mid University Sweden, Skogforsk, and Biometria.

A test at SCA’s timber terminal in Torsboda, Sweden, demonstrated that a Volvo L180 high-lift wheel loader could be operated remoted, hundreds of kilometers away. The test incorporated a closed 5G network, which provided low latency that allowed operators to perform the loader operations.

Volvo suggests that remote-controlled forestry operations will deliver improved productivity by allowing one operator to work across multiple, and sometimes isolated, sites. It is also expected to make it 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.

“We expect tele-operation to open up far greater opportunities for operators than is currently available,” said Christian Spjutare, Advanced Engineering Program Manager at Volvo CE, in a prepared statement. “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.”

Said Magnus Leonhardt, director, head of business development and innovation at Telia, in a statement:

“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. 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.”

How to improve remote control operations

Volvo says the research project will explore what is required from an operator perspective in making tele-operation a user-friendly and efficient experience. Because each load of timber can be so varied—from an unwieldly pile of heavy logs through to just a few short pieces of wood—it is vital that the lifting process is carried out with pinpoint accuracy and incredibly precise handling.

As a result, there are currently a number of connected cameras and sensors located at strategic points around the machine that transmit real-time data via the Telia 5G network back to the control station. The test will therefor both explore how to mature the technology and gather vital feedback from the operators on the optimum placement of those cameras for handling precision.

A step toward equipment automation

Volvo says it has been exploring the potential for tele-operation across a variety of segments from mining to urban construction, and that this project tests the technology in its most challenging application yet. By remote-controlling processes like timber lifting, which it says are currently too complex to be fully automated, tele-operation becomes an important enabler for automation, allowing for a more gradual 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”, Christian concludes.

Source: Volvo Construction Equipment