Inspired By Swedish design culture
A masterpiece of simplicity and sustainability, Volvo Construction Equipment’s latest concept machine made its debut at ConExpo 2014 in Las Vegas and is expected to be operational by 2030, according to Sidney Levy, Chief Designer at Volvo Product Design. The GaiaX is the company’s fully electric compact excavator of the future.
Operators will still be able to sit on the machine, but most tasks will be carried out remotely using augmented reality technology on a computer tablet allowing the operator to maintain a safe distance during potentially hazardous operations. “We envisage it being used in city environments, such as in the street or even inside buildings, where it would be easy to plug into a power source,” said Levy.
Following in the tradition of Volvo CE’s previous concept machines – the SfinX (excavator), Centaur (hauler), Gryphin (wheel loader) and Fenix (paver) – the GaiaX also draws from Greek mythology and is inspired by Gaia, the creator and mother of Earth and the universe.
“This is a machine designed to work in harmony with nature with minimal environmental impact, caring for the user and site staff, keeping them safe from harm. Like Gaia, the excavator is also the first of a generation, and of exceptional beauty,” said Stina NilimaaWickström, Design Director at Volvo CE.
Award-winning Swedish furniture designer Monica Förster was involved in the top-secret GaiaX project from the beginning. Förster designed the operator’s molded wood seat – a first in the construction equipment industry. The seat’s natural flexibility helps to absorb any bumps or vibrations.
Förster’s approach involves creating mock-ups of her projects from just paper and drinking straws – a refreshingly low-tech approach that appealed to Volvo CE’s designers. “We had never worked with physical objects at this stage before, but its really helped to unleash our creativity,” said Levy.
SAFETY AND SIMPLICITY
In the GaiaX, the compact excavator’s traditional cab is replaced by lightweight steel guard rails. Covered with orange leather, a natural, tactile material, the guard rails command the attention of those around the job site, offering a high degree of safety combined with Volvo’s continual commitment to the environment.
Rechargeable batteries are designed to see the operator through a whole working day, although the GaiaX can also be used while plugged into an external electrical power source. Volvo CE turns a heavy battery into an advantage, using it as a counterweight to the arm and boom. Four electric-powered tracks provide good ground surface contact and ensure stability and manoeuvrability, even on steep inclines.
The GaiaX’s zero emissions and silent movement are an advantage when operating in built-up areas. Passers-by are protected by warning sensors that alert the operator to their presence. An airbag – inspired by the side airbags used in Volvo cars – inflates from the seat to shield the operator in case of collisions, roll-over or falling objects. An integrated first-aid kit fulfills Volvo’s core value of safety and duty of care towards the operator.
Although the structure of the GaiaX may be simple, the human-machine interface (HMI) is highly advanced – with half of the six-strong design team dedicating their time to developing a revolutionary operator experience.
“The GaiaX project has been an incredible opportunity for us to experiment with the way construction equipment is used – we feel as if we are paving the way to the future of Volvo and perhaps the industry too,” commented Levy.
Some innovative features had to be removed from the GaiaX as they may be included in Volvo machines much sooner than 2030, the date the design team envisage their future machine becoming operational.
Most applications can be carried out remotely using an augmented reality tablet computer. The main benefit of this device is that only one person is required to use the machine. The operator can dig while keeping an eye on the surrounding environment at the same time. Remote operation also allows the machine to be used in potentially dangerous situations, while the operator maintains a safe distance.
The augmented reality tablet will be mapped with a location’s utility systems, pinpointing water pipes and electrical cables on screen and allowing the operator to visualize the work before it is carried out using segmented reality. A ground scanner provides precise information about obstacles to guarantee the effectiveness of auto-dig modes, and projects images on to the ground to show the worksite and mark safe zones for the operator and passers-by. The tablet will also connect to other machines in the fleet for a more effective way of working.
The HMI will always suggest the most economical and ecologically friendly way to complete the work but will give users the option of entering new requirements related to the task. For example, material may need removing from a certain area to allow for safe passage of other vehicles, or a larger excavation area may be required to provide better visibility.