Volvo Trucks has developed a new self-steering truck with a view to boosting productivity for sugarcane growers.

The truck, which is used to transport newly harvested sugarcane at a plantation in Brazil, steers itself with precision through fields in order to avoid damaging young plants that will form the following year’s crop.

At present, about four percent of the crop is lost as young plants are run over and the soil is compacted by moving vehicles. This translates into thousands of dollars in lost revenue per truck per season.

In the past growing season, the Usina Santa Terezinha Group’s fields at Maringá, near São Paulo,have served as a test area for Volvo’s prototype. The truck was developed to examine how automated driving can make it possible to avoid damage to soil and crops, thus boosting revenues. The potential for bigger harvests is significant – up to 10 tons per hectare per year.

“With the help of Volvo Trucks we believe can increase productivity, not just for one single crop but for the entire lifecycle of the sugarcane plant, which lasts five to six years,” says Paulo Meneguetti, finance director at Santa Terezinha.

At present, sugarcane is brought in from the fields using harvesters and manually controlled trucks, which drive alongside each other at a low speed. When a truck is fully loaded and drives off, the next one moves to the harvester and the procedure is repeated.

The big challenge for the truck driver is to match the speed of the harvester and at the same time concentrate fully on driving in its tracks, so as not to trample plants that will become the following year’s crop.

Volvo Trucks has solved the problem with a driver assistance system that automates steering. Two gyroscopes ensure that not only the front wheels but the entire vehicle is steered with precision, preventing the truck from veering more than 25mm laterally from its set course.

In coming months the research project will transition into the development phase, with more vehicles being field-tested. After that, the solution is set to become commercially available.