A box that enables autonomous snowploughs

Sweeping the road might not be a typical high-tech challenge. Unless you are talking about sweeping a runway in arctic conditions. Without a using a human in the process. Now the Kongsberg company Yeti Move is taking the human factor out of the equation with newly developed technology for autonomous snow removal. Data Respons R&D Services designs and manufactures the box that connects it all.

Autonomous snowploughs

The plow trucks at Oslo Gardemoen and Stockholm Arlanda Airport are driving in formation. The front truck leads, while the others follow, slightly offset from each other like a large plow. This is what they do to clear a runway as quickly as possible and thus delay air traffic as little as possible. Yeti Move works to automate the column of plow trucks. The company, which was established in 2015, is owned by Øveraasen, which produces snow removal equipment, and the Swedish manufacturer of garden machines, Husqvarna.

Øveraasen produces the world’s largest plow trucks, and also the special truck which with a combination of plow and brushes that keeps the runways free of snow. In the winter season 2018/19, Yeti Move let its first two autonomous Øveraasen plow trucks test drive at Gardermoen. They drove a total of 2,500 km, as part of the airport’s fleet of clearing vehicles. In 2019, the company entered into one of the first commercial contracts in the world for autonomous snow removal with the Swedish airport operator Swedavia.

All in one box

Going forward both Arlanda and Gardermoen will use a fleet of autonomous plow trucks. Yeti Move requested assistance from Data Respons R&D Services to solve the task at hand. The task was to design and produce the box that translates GPS data and commands from Yeti Moves autonomy software to the control signals that control the vehicle’s drive-by-wire system. The box is called the Yeti Move Autonomy Kit.

Project manager and system architect Daniel Omsland explains:

– Yeti Move had designed a prototype of this box. It sat in the wheelhouse and consisted of a number of off-the-shelf components. The components each had their own enclosure, connector and certification. Data Respons R&D Services was given the task of designing a new prototype that fit into one housing, both to reduce the production cost and to make the control box so robust that it could also be mounted on the outside of the vehicle, e.g. on the roof.

The box contains a computer, based on an Nvidia Jetson module, that processes data based on Yeti Moves autonomy algorithms. In addition, it includes a power supply, an Ethernet switch and modules for communication and GNSS navigation, as well as an IMU inertial navigation system. We have also created a BSP (board support package) which consists of a Linux Yocto operating system and APIs so that the Yeti Moves autonomy application can access the box’s hardware.

The Yeti Moves autonomous columns of plow trucks are manned by one safety driver, located in the car in front. The driver does not operate the vehicle directly, but can, if necessary, override parameters for all vehicles in the column, such as speed or stop the operation if you have to wait for other traffic. According to Anders Fuglesteg Nilsen, the safety driver is still necessary, as there are still no sensor systems that are reliable enough to function flawlessly in harsh weather conditions with storms and snow drifts.

Drive-by-wire

Tom Holtermann Andersen, head of Data Respons R&D Services’ Kongsberg department, highlights the control box’s extensive connector interface, which consists of antenna connectors for 4G, 5G and GNSS. In addition, there is an interface to the vehicle’s CAN bus. It is through this that the box controls the vehicle’s drive-by-wire system. It is supplied by German Schaeffler Paravan and was originally developed as joystick control of cars for disabled individuals.

CTO of Yeti Move, Anders Fuglesteg Nilsen, explains:

– The box contains a mobile modem, which is connected to our fleet control system, which is located in Azure. Via the box and separate interfaces, we actuate the drive-by-wire system and control the brush that hangs on the back of the vehicle, controlling stuff like brush direction and speed.

– At the beginning of the project, we wanted a unit that was designed for installation inside the cab. However, we quickly concluded that it was better to have a dedicated control box that would be robust enough to be mounted outside the vehicle. Thus, the box becomes more useful for military vehicles, wheel loaders, for autonomous vehicles in industry or for fire and rescue. The box can also be used for retrofitting of existing vehicles. In addition, it can be mounted on larger lawnmowers, which makes sense since as our owner Husqvarna is a large manufacturer of lawnmowers.

Yeti Move Autonomy Kit
Yeti Move Autonomy Kit

Autonomy in agriculture

Data Respons R&D Services will initially build 20 control boxes for Yeti Move, most of which will be installed in autonomous plow trucks at Arlanda and Gardermoen. In addition, one of the boxes will be mounted in a Valtra tractor since Yeti Move is also working to develop autonomous solutions for the agricultural industry.

– We look at many different areas of use and select the areas that have the greatest potential in relation to our autonomous solution, Anders Fuglesteg Nilsen explains.

– For a wide range of use it is important that we build a technical infrastructure that is robust and flexible. For example, the cloud service we develop must be scalable so that we can support autonomous systems worldwide. The same goes for the control box. It should be able to be used in many different applications and Data Respons R&D Services has helped us build a box that meets these requirements. It’s about having one hardware platform for all our solutions. And in the future, Data Respons will also support the hardware setup and manage the Lifecycle Management on it.