Swedish manufacturer equips a truck with laser scanners to enable it to negotiate the poorly lit, narrow, slippery corridors of an underground mine
Matt Burt
8 September 2016

Volvo has claimed a world first by testing a fully autonomous truck in a working mine some 1300 metres underground in northern Sweden.

The Volvo FMX truck is part of a development project aimed at improving the transport flow and safety in the Kristineberg Mine, 60 miles from Arvidsjaur in northern Sweden. The truck will cover a distance of 4.3 miles, reaching 1320 metres underground in narrow tunnels.

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

“It’s still a concept truck, but we’re now testing it in real-life operations,” said Holmström. “This will truly change the mining industry. It will make it more productive, more sustainable and safer. And it is just the beginning - all industries will be influenced in the future.”

The truck uses laser scanners on each corner, meaning that all areas of the truck has overlapping sensor cover. It can continuously monitor its surroundings and avoid both fixed and moving obstacles.

Wherever an obstacle is positioned, at least two and sometimes three of the truck's sensors will see it, which Holmström has proven by standing in the middle of a road in the poorly lit mine as the truck approached him and then successfully applied its brakes.

The truck is fitted with a system that gathers data to optimise and coordinate the route and fuel consumption. Even though it is a research project, the first truck will go into commercial operation and do an actual job in the mine. It’s mission is to drive down to the loading area where the mining is done and then transport its load up to the crushing machine.

The goal is to enable the self-driving truck to leave the mine and travel to construction sites above ground and then, ultimately, to drive on the public roads.

The technology that underpins the truck is said to be easily adapted to suit other environments. “We are building a technology platform rather than a specific functionality solution,” said John Tofeldt, Volvo Group’s project leader for automation. “We can compare what the overlapping sensors see and create a very safe and robust system.”

A polymetallic ore containing zinc, copper, lead, gold and silver is mined at Kristineberg.

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