14. September 2020

VOCA granted 13,1 MNOK from the Norwegian Research Council – set to develop next-generation crane, truck and drone autonomy

The Norwegian Research Council has granted VOCA and partners 13,1 MNOK to develop the next-generation logistical autonomy.

The proposed new project, now given a green light for initial development, aims to interconnect both cranes, trucks and drones to create a safer and more effective logistical operation.

Torbjørn Engedal, Managing Director of VOCA, says the concept aims to develop a technology platform consisting of software, sensors and computer devices that will function as the “eyes, senses and brains” of forklifts, drones and cranes – merging them into smart, collaborative devices.

– Will reduce operational risk significantly
The potential effects of such smart collaboration between cargo-handling machinery are significant, according to Engedal.

– Manual handling and transportation of goods, including handling of heavy machinery in industries such as construction, agriculture and fishing, pose a great operational risk. In fact, accidents and work-related injuries and deaths are common in logistics in general, he says.

The following industries reported the following amount of recorded work-related deaths and injuries in Norway in the period between 2009-2014:

– Construction industry: 59
– Transportation and logistics: 44
– Agriculture and fishing: 43
– Industry in general: 33

In total, the numbers add up to 67 % of all recorded deaths and injuries in logistical industries in general in Norway in the period between 2009-2014.

Needs to be lowered
Engedal points out how the new VOCA logistical autonomy project aims to lower such numbers significantly.

– We believe it is possible to almost completely remove accidents causing casualties and work-related injuries, he says. Besides work related injuries and deaths, logistic hubs has a high amount of manual labour in general.

– A typical logistic hub has 50-60% of their total costs related to costs of manual labour. Our goal is to reduce these costs with up to 60%. In this perspective, the use of our proposed autonomy will enable increased industrial competitiveness, especially in Norway, due to our high labour costs in general, Engedal explains.

Not industry specific
The existing VOCA AI-technology has traditionally been the driving force of mainly remote and autonomous crane handling technology, specifically designed for offshore oil and gas use.

With the new logistical concept VOCA is set to build autonomy solutions that could fit a vast number of industries.

– What we want to create here is a system and a solution that could easily be adopted by several different industries, whether the operations are connected to farming, mining, aquaculture or other, he says.

This central feature of the proposed project was also noted by The Norwegian Research Council.

– VOCA will develop and build the necessary sensors, cameras and software required to turn logistical hardware environments into autonomy. As a consequence, it will not be necessary for logistic hubs to replace any of their existing hardware machinery, such as a crane, to be able to install our autonomous system. In effect, the solutions could easily be exported to existing machinery in any given logistics environment.

– The result is increased speed and availability for a greater pool of users to start implementing our solutions and reap the benefits, he remarks.

Pilot project first step
Paul Torkil Fjuk, Senior Advisor, Business and Technology, at the Norwegian Research Council, says the proposed project from VOCA gained significant attention among the different applications handled by the professional panel.

– The VOCA «Autonomous Cargo-Handling and Transportation Project» has been granted support from us based on how well the project adress an important aspect of norwegian commerce and business, which is the potential to streamline the interaction of several different logistical units to produce enhanced and more effective handling of goods.

– While the proposed project primarily seek to build solutions to streamline harbour logistics, the project results could ultimately be transferred to other logistic hubs in other business areas. The professional panel considers the potential of this project to impact norwegian business and commerce as «significant», and the Research Council looks forward to follow the project development as it unfolds, he says.

The proposed autonomy project will initially see a scale version of a full environment being built, including forklifts, drones and cranes.

– We have previously developed such scale environments together with Aker BP, where we specifically and successfully designed and tested the world’s first autonomous crane control system. We will use our experience from this project when we now embark on our next development journey, Engedal states.

The project sees a range of participants and constellation of partners, including Aersea and the University of Zaragoza.