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Garbagemen may lose their jobs to robots

September 17, 2015, 1:57 PM UTC
A trashman collecting the garbage in Rad
A trashman collecting the garbage in Radio City. (Photo by Bernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Photograph by Bernard Hoffman—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Volvo wants to make garbage pick-up quieter and less straining—and remove humans from the process almost entirely.

The automaker on Wednesday said that it is collaborating with Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University in Sweden, Penn State University in the United States, and the waste recycling company Renova to build a robot that interacts with a garbage truck and its driver to collect trash.

The objective of the project called Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling or ROAR is to introduce a robot that, after receiving instructions from a truck’s operating system, can collect garbage bins in a neighborhood, bring them to a refuse truck, and empty them. The garbage truck driver supervises this process while avoiding heavy lifting.

While the truck driver is still involved in the process, Volvo’s description of the project implies that the robots would displace human garbage collectors, who, in large cities in the United States, are tasked with hauling trash from curbsides and alleys. About 66,000 people in the United States were employed as refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they earned a median hourly wage of $16.27.

Per-Lage Götvall, project leader for the Volvo Group says that ROAR “provides a way to stretch the imagination and test new concepts to shape transport solutions for tomorrow.”

The three universities involved in the project have distinct roles. Mälardalens University will design the robot itself. Students at Chalmers University will work on the overall operating system while the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State is responsible for developing the graphics, communication systems and control panel for the truck driver.

Volvo says the technology is scheduled to be tested on a vehicle developed by Renova in June 2016.