Autonomous street sweeping is rapidly become a reality around the world. On June 30, 2020, Chinese autonomous start-up Autowise.ai joined hands with Swiss cleaning and maintenance vehicle manufacturer Boschung. They announced a joint venture to co-develop driverless street sweepers.
Speaking to Auto Futures, Larry Wu, Director of Corporate Development, tells us more about Autowise.ai and the Urban-Sweeper S2.0.
The Shanghai-based start-up was founded in 2017. “Adhering to the mission of ‘Smarter Driving Technology, Better Urban Life’, we are committed to creating a new lifestyle through intelligent driving technology. Urban sanitation is critically related to our living environment; however, the industry is facing a number of challenges such as insufficient workforce, high labour cost, poor working conditions, etc.”, says Wu.
“These challenges ignite our passion to develop autonomous driving products to help the sanitation industry evolve. Autowise.ai currently delivers integrated and professional autonomous cleaning services across the world,” he adds.
The deployment of autonomous technology has only just begun, and that too in rare instances and smaller test environments. As Autowise.ai has its services up and running in major Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Suzhou, as well as other metropolitan regions in Europe and the U.S., I was curious about what some of the reactions were to these projects.
Wu says: “We have delivered more than 10 projects in these cities. Some of our clients are facility owners and some are government agencies. The project scale also differs, some projects only require 1-2 small-sized sweepers, while some projects need a fleet covering all types of sweepers. Fortunately, the results of these projects exceeded our expectations, especially that the customer feedback on the cleaning performance was very positive.”
“Taking Suzhou project as an example, the size of our fleet and areas covered are constantly expanding – from the initial 4 small-sized sweepers to the current 10 sweepers of mixed size, and it has been determined that the fleet scale will gradually expand to 30 vehicles by the end of this year. This can actually prove the popularity of our products,” he notes.
The Tech Behind the Sweepers
Since Autowise.ai has deployed autonomous sweepers across three continents, one question that arises is whether there are challenges while transitioning the technology to adapt to different needs across different geographies.
Wu answers: “Based on our observation and experience, there is no major difference between the business essence of different countries or regions in autonomous sweeping. The demands are the same and there are no borders for technology.
“For overseas markets, we are facing some challenges in compliance and regulations, including traffic rules, information security and usage scenarios. Taking our U.S. project as an example, there are nuances in traffic signs between China and the United States, which our autonomous driving system need to recognize and deal with. Meanwhile, we must avoid recording facial image data for personal information protection.”
As our conversation moved further, Wu spoke at length about the technology powering Autowise.ai’s autonomous sweepers.
He says: “The core technologies of autonomous sweeper include perception, mapping and localization and decision making. In terms of perception, equipped with multiple sensors including 16-line lidars, video cameras and mm-wave radars, our autonomous sweeper can achieve 360° full coverage of the environment. The total cost of sensing is quite limited, lowest in the industry. Besides, efficient sensing data fusion algorithm is adopted to realize data transmission and synchronization across different types of sensors.
“In terms of mapping and localization, we are able to generate and incrementally modify maps to determine drivable and cleanable area, when the area (eg: road) environment is frequently changing. Through automatic HD-map generation and incremental modification, we are guaranteed to work in the condition without GPS signal, which means our sweeper can operate smoothly between buildings, in tunnels and indoors.”
No Dirt Left Behind
Our conversation turned to the recently launched Urban-Sweeper S2.0 which is powered by WIBOT, Autowise.ai’s joint venture with Boschung.
“WIBOT launched its first product – autonomous electric Urban-Sweeper S2.0. Equipped with a combination of Lidars, cameras, mm-wave radars and GNSS antennas, the sweeper has a 360° coverage of its surrounding environment. The accurate and efficient recognition algorithm allows the sweeper to track all objects in sight simultaneously. The low noise pollution of the electric sweeper enables a 24h use.
“With autonomous wake-up and autonomous parking, the Urban- Sweeper S2.0 driven by WIBOT may not only be used in closed areas, but also on public streets with a L5 autonomous driving certification. The autonomous sweeper performs its cleaning tasks in strict adherence to the operation protocol until the cleaning cycle is finished, leaving no dirt.”
Expansion can help us accumulate massive amounts of data for continuously optimizing our system while generating considerable economic benefits
With autonomous mobility being its forte, I wanted to know if Autowise.ai had any plans to move from sweepers to focus on providing solutions to other sectors like logistics, passenger vehicles or ride-hailing.
Wu tells me: “Our autonomous driving system has strong applicability that can be deployed in many scenarios. In fact, we have received a lot of customer requests from other industries. However, urban sanitation is our prioritized target market at present stage, and we are seeking to become a respected leader in the market before expanding into other segments”
Expansion is also a key consideration for Autowise.ai. “The first step of our business expansion will focus on China, Europe and North America. To be more specific, the European and North American markets will be primarily developed by our joint venture subsidiary – WIBOT.”
He concludes: “In China, we are working with more municipal governments to deliver more projects through our advanced technology and expertise – expansion can help us accumulate massive amounts of data for continuously optimizing our system while generating considerable economic benefits.”