Toymaker Lego has joined forces with Volvo Construction Equipment and team of children to design a futuristic, autonomous construction machine.
The result: The Lego Technic Volvo Concept Wheel Loader Zeux set, scheduled for release in toy stores in August, and the digital prototype for a real-world autonomous machine.
The project started out as fun, a sort of informal team-building exercise two years ago where people started saying, What if?… It gradually evolved into an idea for an actual Lego Technic product. The vision: Design the construction machines of the future. And now the collaboration has led to number of potentially revolutionary patents.
“We have enjoyed a truly fun and productive collaboration with the Lego Technic team over the past few years,” recalls Arvid Rinaldo, brand communication & partnerships, at Volvo CE. “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.”
Market research house ABI predicts there will be about 8 million at least partially self-driving cars sold worldwide in 2025 as the technology by then becomes widespread. Boeing and Airbus are already investigating the opportunity for self-piloting planes. Millions of households already deploy autonomous vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers – and robots are already greeting customers in retail stores and banks around Asia. So the idea that autonomous construction machines may soon be deployed is not at all far fetched.
A major part of the design process for Zeux was the creation of a focus group comprising children. Looking at early drawings and models, the group gave feedback that led to the development of new, unique features. Among them: the scout drone and the adjustable “camera” boom mounted on the roof of the vehicle, called the Eye. In addition to the scout drones and built-in sensors a real-life model would have, the Eye illustrates a new and inventive feature: it will show exactly where the vehicle’s “attention” is directed, which means it can make “eye contact” with humans and acknowledge their presence.
“When you cross a busy road, you watch out for dangers and try to make eye contact with drivers in your immediate vicinity,” says Andrew Woodman, senior design manager for Lego Group. “It’s an instinctive reaction that lets you evaluate your next move. Should you stay where you are, or is it safe to move? It’s usually an easy assessment.
“With autonomous vehicles, you don’t have that interaction because you can’t see all the sensors that allow them to navigate around both stationary and moving objects. It’s not intuitive for us to decode what the vehicle’s next move is, where it’s going, or if it has seen us. While the Volvo Concept Wheel Loader Zeux will not be driving on roads, it would be interacting with workers at a construction site. So we set out to create features and functions that make the interaction between humans and machines as safe and intuitive as possible.”
Authenticity, functionality and challenging building
Lego Technic says one of its core design values is the “AFC promise”, which stands for “Authenticity, Functionality and Challenging building”. Models have to look as close to their real-life counterparts as possible, be fun to play with and inspire builders to try new building techniques. So how does a futuristic model fit into especially the Authenticity part of the promise?
Workshops in Billund, Denmark, video meetings, and exchanges of concept sketches and sketch models allowed room to test wild ideas throughout the development process.
“As a result, you can see a lot of very interesting features like an extendable counterweight, raising and lowering chassis, four-wheel steering and many other great ideas that fits all design values.”
Andrew Woodman adds: “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. It has been very motivating helping Volvo CE to develop what could be the future of construction machines.”
Here are some more Lego toys from the Technic range…