If you’ve ever turned over a compost heap, then you’ll know what a stinky, dirty job it is. Now, imagine doing it for hours at a time, on a much larger scale. That’s what Austrian scientists have envisioned, designing an autonomous compost turner as a result.

Throughout the world, many municipalities and agricultural businesses compost their organic waste in large yards. In order to keep that waste mixed and rotting evenly, tractor-drawn machinery is typically used to turn it over on a regular basis. The drivers of those slow-moving tractors are continuously subjected not only to unpleasant odors, but also to heat and gases given off by the decaying matter.

Seeking an alternative, a team at the Graz University of Technology is developing a self-driving vehicle to do the job.

Measuring 4 meters wide by 2.5 meters long (13.1 by 8.2 ft), the battery-electric caterpillar-tracked device is guided by a combination of GPS, stereo camera data, accelerometers, sensors on the wheels within its treads, and a 3D model of the composting yard. These not only allow it to track its location within the yard, but they also keep it centered as it travels back and forth along the parallel rows of compost – most yards already arrange their compost in such rows, for easier handling.

A toothed roller, not unlike the cylindrical beater brush on a vacuum cleaner, does the actual compost-turning.

The technology is currently being commercialized by Austrian company Pusch & Schinnerl, which partnered with the university on the development process. Known as the eWender, the vehicle could enter production sometime next year.

It can be seen in action, in the video below.

Source: TU Graz

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