New test site for autonomous vehicles
The new test site maintained by the Department of Intelligent Hydraulics and Automation allows researchers and students to practice the safe operation of heavy equipment and energy-efficient driving.
A new test site built on the TUT campus allows researchers to safely test the control systems of autonomous heavy-duty vehicles while excavating and moving earth. A similar test site is not found in any other university in Europe.
”The test site provides a major boost to research on our priority areas, which are intelligent mobile machines, digital hydraulic technology and remote handling,” says Professor Kalevi Huhtala, the Head of the Department of Intelligent Hydraulics and Automation.
For one thing, the new site enables MSc and doctoral students to analyse the fuel consumption and exhaust emissions of mobile machines and test the operation of driverless vehicles. Sophisticated measurement instruments integrated into the machines provide increasingly accurate data on fine particle emissions under real-world conditions.
The results will accelerate the development of cleaner technology and thereby benefit not only the heavy equipment manufacturers who engage in collaborative research projects with TUT, but also the wider society.
Unique in Europe
Graduates enter industry careers
TUT is home to the largest hub for hydraulics and automation research in the Nordic countries. The University is counted among the world’s leading research centres in the field. What makes it even more attractive on a global scale is the new test site for mobile machines and the Doctoral School of Industry Innovations (DSII).
“The Department of Intelligent Hydraulics and Automation is piloting DSII, which was launched in early 2014,” Head of Department, Professor Kalevi Huhtala says.
Doctoral students work with heavy equipment manufacturers to address real-world industry challenges. This gives them hands-on experience of applying their theoretical knowledge to practice. Graduates from DSII have the ability to find innovative solutions and respond to customer needs. The intention is that DSII’s students are employed upon graduation. Companies are closely involved in funding and overseeing their research projects throughout the four-year programme.
“Our doctoral students are already working on four dissertations that explore the optimization of power transmission, the use of digital hydraulics in mobile machines, boom control systems and the ideal boom structure“, Huhtala lists.
The new outdoor test site occupies some 4,000 square metres. “A similar test site is not found anywhere else in Finland or any other university in the Nordic countries or Europe. Here we can test not only conventional driver-operated vehicles, but also teleoperated and unmanned machines,” Huhtala says.
Driving style has a direct bearing on the fuel consumption of heavy equipment.
“It’s a definite plus that the test site is located right on campus and easily available at any time. It’s also equipped with network connections. We need a research infrastructure that meets modern needs to maintain our strong reputation among prospective students and research partners,” Huhtala says.
Collaboration with diverse stakeholders
The Department of Intelligent Hydraulics and Automation has a long history of research collaboration with companies. Last year, the Department launched the new Doctoral School of Industry Innovations (DSII), where students carry out research on four areas relevant to mobile machines. DSII’s partners include, among others, Sandvik Mining and Construction, FIMA (Forum of Intelligent Machines) and the German company Bosch Rexroth.
Collaboration between TUT and industry stakeholders has already resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in the fuel consumption of mobile machines. The next step is to take a closer look at emissions.
”Now we can conveniently measure exhaust emissions in collaboration with researchers at the Department of Physics. Laboratory tests cannot tell us how emissions behave after they have been released into the atmosphere. We need to understand their behaviour under realistic conditions,” Professor Seppo Tikkanen says.
According to Tikkanen, the new test site has the potential to be scaled up to serve customers from all over the world. Researchers from across TUT can team up with companies to develop solutions to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. Research is also carried out to improve the usability of heavy equipment and the safety of worksites.
The TTY Foundation awarded EUR 500,000 to fund the construction of the new test site.
Gravel, asphalt and slopes
- The outdoor test site occupies some 4,000 square metres with an unheated garage in the middle. A ‘sandpit’ serves as a testing ground for excavators and earth movers.
- The test site is partly covered in asphalt but is mostly gravel-surfaced. This is where users can practice the safe operation of heavy equipment and energy-efficient driving.
- Three man-made slopes allow users to practice hill starts, driving on slippery surfaces and zigzagging up and down the slopes. The steepest is inclined at an angle of 20 degrees.
- A fenced area allows the simultaneous testing of multiple driverless vehicles.
- The heavy machines are usually driven by doctoral students, but professional drivers are needed to perform some of the tests.
Text: Leena Koskenlaakso
Pohto: Mika Kanerva