Volvo Construction Equipment says it is the first company in the world to trial a remote-controlled high-lift wheel loader over a 5G network in a complex forestry application – in a bid to develop safer, more productive timber processes and explore its potential as an enabler for automation.
The Remote Timber research project is a collaboration between Volvo CE and telecoms operator Telia, alongside timber and paper manufacturer SCA, Mid University Sweden, Skogforsk and Biometria. The tests at SCA’s timber terminal in Torsboda, Sweden, have demonstrated that it is possible to tele-operate a Volvo L180 high-lift wheel loader, from hundreds of kilometers away, says Volvo. The low latency of the 5G network allowed operators to perform the sensitive process of picking, loading and organizing logs remotely.
Tele-operated forestry is expected to deliver improved productivity by allowing one operator to work across multiple – and sometimes isolated – sites around the world. It is also expected to make it both 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.
Christian Spjutare, advanced engineering program manager at Volvo CE, remarked, “We expect tele-operation to open up far greater opportunities for operators than is currently available. 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.”
An important aim of the research project is to explore exactly 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, the handler utilizes several 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 intent of the testing is to both explore how to mature the technology and gather vital feedback from the operators on the optimum placement of those cameras for handling precision.
Volvo CE has been exploring the potential for tele-operation for the past few years across a variety of segments from mining to urban construction. By remote-controlling processes like timber lifting – which 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.