Scientists of the Graz University of Technology are developing an autonomous, electric compost turning machine together with the company Pusch & Schinnerl. The development is part of the research project ANTON (Autonomous Navigation for Tracked Compost Turners).
The self-propelled model is intended to handle the turning process in industrial composting without the need for personnel in the future – and in an environmentally friendly manner at that: The machine is operated with a battery drive concept that has already been successful in previous research projects. According to an announcement by Graz University of Technology, the aim of the project is also to make autonomous driving acceptable for track-driven machines.
Background: The turning and mixing of large compost heaps are essential steps in composting to accelerate the rotting process. Currently, tractor-drawn turners or diesel-powered compost turners with crawler chassis are mainly used for this purpose. The operating personnel of these machines are exposed to rather unpleasant conditions due to the slow driving speeds of 50 to 300 metres per hour, the high ambient temperatures, the released gases and the odour pollution.
ANTON is to take remedial action. The Institutes of Technical Logistics and Geodesy of Graz University of Technology are involved in the research project. The Styrian company Pusch & Schinnerl is also planning the subsequent industrial implementation as a project partner. The initiators of the project name the two main innovations of the new compost turning machine as the robust control architecture and a powerful navigation module for precise positioning, which ensures that the device can steer the compost in a targeted manner and turn it correctly. The team does not mention any further details about the electric drive.
The machine underwent numerous functional tests using virtual simulation. Another novelty: “The dynamic description of autonomously driving tracked vehicles in virtual models has so far not been as established as that of autonomous passenger cars. This is where we are doing pioneering work with our research,” says Christian Landschützer from the Institute for Technical Logistics. According to him, more than one million tons of organic waste are processed annually in over 400 composting plants in Austria. Besides, composting plays a significant role in countries without fertile soil. “The interest and demand for an autonomous compost turner is great”, he states.
Graz University of Technology is aiming to complete the development phase by the end of the year and to have a prototype ready for series production by 2021. ANTON is being funded under the Austrian Space Applications Programme (ASAP) of the Austrian Research Association FFG. It is anchored at the Technical University of Graz in the fields of “Mobility & Productions” and “Sustainable Systems”, two of the five strategic research areas of the University of Graz.