Robots to the refuse

If you long for the sort of space-age future once envisioned on the Jetsons, here’s one to watch: a robot-drone combo that could soon make garbage pick-up automatic.

ROAR, which stands for Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling, is a joint project of the Volvo Group in collaboration with a Swedish waste-recycling company and engineering students at two Swedish universities and Penn State.

“Within Volvo Group we foresee a future with more automation,” says Per-Lage Götvall, Volvo Patent Coordination Manager. “This project provides a way to stretch the imagination and test new concepts to shape transport solutions for tomorrow.” The concept the ROAR team came up with is shown in this video.

Once the garbage truck – with its human driver – stops at a collection site, a small, copter-like drone releases from the truck’s roof.  The drone rises and hovers above the scene, locating nearby trash bins and communicating their whereabouts to its robot partner, which then detaches itself from the back of the truck to retrieve, empty, and return the containers.

If all goes well, the driver never has to leave the truck. And if something should go amiss, the system is loaded with manual overrides and sensors that shut things down in a hurry.

Penn State students involved in this effort are members of the Intelligent Vehicles and Systems Group, led by Sean Brennan, associate professor of mechanical engineering. In addition to ROAR, group members are working on a variety of other smart machines, from bomb-disposal robots to an autonomous wheelchair for ALS patients.

For ROAR, their contribution was to develop a web-based 3D interface that allows the truck driver to monitor the garbage pick-up situation and, if need be, take control of the robot.

“We’re very lucky to have an amazing cohort of students who are well trained in automation technologies,” says Brennan.

The ROAR project is part of the Volvo Group’s Academic Partner Program, a network of 12 universities, including Penn State, engaged in long-term research and recruitment collaboration with the company.

Media members interested in learning more about the ROAR project or the Intelligent Vehicles and Systems Group may contact Sean Brennan at

Featured image by Adrian Wirén / Mälardalens Högskola

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