Volvo Construction Equipment’s latest concept vehicle – the Zeux – is an autonomous electric wheel loader, designed in collaboration with toy range Lego Technic.
“This is a journey we started two years ago with a very open session with Lego,” explains Volvo CE emerging technologies engineer Joakim Unnebäck. “It was good for us because we know our business but we can become blind to fresh ideas.
“At Volvo I’m usually the creative guy, but this time Lego was also bringing lots of ideas to the table and my role was more to consider the engineering perspective and implications. I had some good ideas as well, but most came from Lego!”
The fresh insights led to some of the quirky designs included in the vehicle. The most prominent of these influences is the scorpion-tail-like tentacle protruding from the rear of the machine. At its tip is a camera for observing humans who happen to be in the immediate vicinity.
“When you cross a road, you watch for dangers and try to make eye contact with drivers. It’s instinctive and helps you evaluate your next move,” says Andrew Woodman, senior design manager for Lego Group.
“Should you stay where you are, or is it safe to move? It’s usually an easy assessment. But with autonomous vehicles you don’t have that interaction because you can’t see all the sensors that allow them to navigate around both stationary and moving objects.
“It’s not intuitive for us as humans to decode what the vehicle’s next move will be, where it’s going, or if it has seen us. While the Zeux would not be driving on roads, it would be interacting with workers at a construction site. So we set out to create features and functions that make the interaction between humans and machines as safe and intuitive as possible.”
Currently only a concept vehicle, the Zeux will serve as an inspirational tool for Volvo CE engineers in bringing to market autonomous electric vehicles that will make the construction sites of tomorrow safer places.