The exponential technologies deliver substantial change much faster than we consider and the disruption in waste management industry arrives earlier than we think. In a game-chianging movement, Volvo recently released a new video that shows a 100% automated garbage collection process with the integration of a robot, a drone and a traditional garbage truck. The project is named “Roary,” for Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling.

Back in September 2015, Volvo announced that it had created a new joint venture (Volvo Group, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University, Penn State, and the Swedish waste management company Renova) that aims to develop small, quiet robots that will collect garbage from the bins. The idea was to have the two-wheeled robots lift garbage bins and empty them into the truck. While this task will be performed autonomously, the bots will still be under the control of the truck driver. 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. Using GPS, lidar (which measures distance with laser lights), cameras, and motion sensors combined with odometry, the drone first checks out the state of the bins and identifies the ones that must be emptied while transmitting their location.

According to the students who worked on the Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling (or ROAR) project, their self-driving, garbage-collecting prototype is just an exercise. “We predict a future with more automation,” Per-Lage Götvall, project manager for robot development in the Volvo Group, said in a statement. “This project is intended to stimulate our imagination, to test new concepts that may shape transport solutions of the future.”

Members of Volvo’s robotics division forecast that automation will become 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. The potential benefits of using robots are countless but it seems that their use will be controversial: robots will replace hundreds of thousands or even millions of workers in recycling and waste management, creating a huge negative social impact and intense conflicts. A jobless waste management industry is more possible than ever. This is why we need a new vision for a Wasteless Future and not a Jobless one.


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©2022 Wasteless Future Antonis Mavropoulos

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