Volvo CE, Lego & Kids Design Autonomous Concept Wheel Loader
Bringing together engineers from a heavy equipment manufacturer and the creative team from a toy company to design a conceptual wheel loader might seem like an odd idea. Bring in a focus group comprised of children to provide feedback and the idea is just bonkers. In reality, the collaboration resulted in a high-tech concept that might change the future of construction equipment design.
The ZEUX, a futuristic, autonomous concept wheel loader, came about through a collaboration between Volvo CE and Lego that began as an informal team building exercise. This led to the decision to work together to design the construction machines of the future, along with creating a new product for the Lego Technics line.
The ZEUX is unlike any front wheel loader you’ll come across on the construction site. For starters, the ZEUX is fully autonomous and cab-less. Removing the cab from the loader meant the design team to incorporate a scissor frame that can be raised and lowered to allow for better positioning based on the work being done. The battery pack for the fully electric vehicle acts as a counterweight and automatically moves to change the loader’s center of gravity.
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The ZEUX can lower its body when filling a load in its bucket and automatically rebalance the counterweight to provide the energy needed to lift the machine back up afterward. This will allow the ZEUX to maneuver and position itself in ways that traditional wheel cannot.
The ZEUX’s articulated four-wheel steering is made possible by the electric hub motors and sensors on each wheel for traction and stability. Both axels are equipped with Ackermann steering mechanisms to provide additional stability when turning.
The kids who participated in the focus group helped develop two of the key features on the ZEUX, the mapping drone and the boom mounted camera dubbed “The Eye.” The drone helps the ZEUX navigate as well as providing real-time imaging of progress on the site and changing conditions.
The ZEUX designers initially removed the boom mounted camera, citing it was unnecessary because the sensors allow the loader to expertly navigate the site and avoid collisions. The kids questioned how people on the site would know that the ZEUX recognized and saw them.
Adding in “The Eye” provides an important function in the human-machine interaction by pointing the camera in the direction it is moving. This will allow workers walking around the site to make “eye contact” with the ZEUX and get reassurance that they have been seen.
While the technology currently exists to build a full-scale ZEUX, Volvo CE doesn’t have plans to put it into production at this time. The collaboration with Lego did lead to a number of revolutionary new patents that Volvo CE plans to further develop, test and incorporate in future construction equipment models.
The Lego Technics version of the ZEUX will be available in August. The Lego Technics ZEUX will join models of Volvo CE’s L350F wheel loader and EW160E excavator that are currently available.