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Kids help Volvo and Lego design the construction vehicles of the future

When Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) and Lego Technic gathered a group of children to design a new earth mover, the result was more than a new toy. The Lego Technic Volvo Concept Wheel Loader Zeux is also a digital prototype for a future Volvo autonomous machine.

If involving children in real-world construction equipment design seems odd, consider this: The collaboration has resulted in several patents, some of which are “potentially revolutionary,” according to Volvo.

“We have enjoyed a truly fun and productive collaboration with the Lego Technic team over the past few years,” Volvo CE’s global communication manager Arvid Rinaldo said in a statement. “It allowed us to test ideas for new types of construction machines for the future, both in terms of functionality, scale, design, and interaction.

“This model may seem futuristic now, but autonomous, connected and electric construction machines are already starting to be a reality. The Volvo Concept Wheel Loader Zeux is a realistic next step in the exciting evolution of our construction machines.”

When Volvo sought ideas to heighten safety and add human considerations in the artificial intelligence programming and capabilities of autonomous construction equipment, the children suggested two novel features: A scout drone and a camera boom called “the Eye.”

The scout drone looks ahead of and around the Zeux wheel loader. The Eye, mounted on an adjustable boom on the vehicle’s roof, is more than just a camera — it can acknowledge human presence. The idea of directing autonomous vehicle attention and making “eye contact” sprung from lessons children learn about crossing roads.

When we walk across roads shared with cars, at stop signs or traffic lights, for example, we’re taught not to move until we’re sure the driver in a stationary vehicle acknowledges our presence. But what about driverless vehicles? Training the Eye to sense human presence and indicate that it knows the person is there is as important for vehicles on busy construction sites with workers on the ground as it is on city streets.

Lego Technic Senior Design Manager Andrew Woodman referred to his group’s “AFC promise” in model design, that models include “Authenticity, Functionality, and Challenging Building.”

“Volvo CE and the LEGO Group share the same values when it comes to our requirements for quality and usability, while at the same time pushing the boundaries of creativity and functionality,” Woodman said. “It has been very motivating helping Volvo CE to develop what could be the future of construction machines.”

The Lego Technic Volvo Concept Wheel Loader Zeux model will include a working boom and bucket, a moving counterweight to raise and lower the chassis, a mapping drone, and articulated four-wheel steering. The 1,167 piece model, available for sale in August, will also have online instructions for building an alternative piece of construction equipment, the Volvo Concept Hauler Pegax.

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