Safer, more productive landfills with self-guided heavy machinery


Irish society Helgen Technology will launch an innovation in 2024 that will convert heavy machinery such as earth movers, excavators and others into fully autonomous vehicles. In doing so, they aim to make landfills and mines more efficient, safer and more productive. Speaking from Mexico, CEO Leopoldo Rodriguez talks about Helgen Tech’s plans in this episode of Today’s Startups.

What does Helgen Tech do?

“We are an Irish robotics company. I have a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Cranfield University and a PhD in Automation, electronics and telecommunications engineering from the University of Seville. In recent years I have worked for large companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, where I was also looking to get a vehicle to drive autonomously. After that, I created Helgen Tech. We want to make landfills, mines and other workplaces where large machinery is used safer, more productive and more efficient.

Another interest: Grycle transforms waste on site into reusable raw materials

How do you plan to do this?

“We achieve this by adapting already existing heavy machinery into machines that operate independently. They are equipped with a “black box” that contains the hardware and software that controls the machine. Our “black box” is supported by the use of AI and machine learning. This makes it an autonomous system. The “black box” takes the place of the driver who makes choices and reacts and acts immediately when something unexpected happens.

People are sometimes afraid that because of innovations like this, jobs will become obsolete. This is not the case. Right now there are 15,000 people short in America who can operate heavy machinery. These people have to be trained, which takes a lot of time. And after only six months, half of them end up leaving this job because the work is too hard or too boring.

In addition, the work is often dangerous. Think of all those dangerous fumes in a landfill that are all inhaled. Or the multitude of microplastic pieces. But also fires that occur regularly in landfills. The risk of fatal accidents is minimized by making the machines self-steering. And it has other advantages. A machine can run longer, there are fewer emissions as the machine does not need to be switched on and off all the time, and our innovation can also keep track of relevant operational information.

Is there a need for autonomous machines?

“We are not the only ones working on this type of innovation. However, we are the only ones mainly focusing on waste management, so we have no competition. It’s a tough industry. Landfill visits aren’t fun either, but there are plenty of problems in this sector that we know how to solve.

We also look beyond the waste management sector alone. Right now we’re working with a port in Mexico on a pilot to see if the assumptions we have about autonomously controllable machines are accurate. The already operational prototype will soon be tested on waste compactors [machine that crushes and compresses waste]. On top of that, we are also having discussions with various cities and businesses on how we can help them. There is an appetite for it. »

What does the period ahead look like for Helgen Tech?

“Today, personally, I travel a lot between Ireland, Houston, the United States and Mexico. It’s to handle all the interviews, but also because we’re on an acceleration program run by Techstars in Baltimore, which is funded by STANLEY Black & Decker. Among other things, they help us prepare for our funding round and guide us through the US start-up ecosystem. They also help us overcome obstacles in the manufacturing process. We have managed to gain valuable new relationships through them.

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We are now looking for a way to form partnerships with established names like John Deere and Caterpillar and OEM’S [original equipment manufacturer], which manufacture large vehicles and machinery. This will then allow future customers to purchase additional quantities of our product. After all, people tend to be loyal to one brand when it comes to these types of important expenses and products. So that would be great for us.

How much will your product cost when finished?

“Material costs are currently very high due to supply chain shortages. Raw materials are just very expensive right now. It will be different in three years, we hope. The cost of the material should be around 10,000-15,000 dollars. Added to this are operating costs. We estimate them at around 50,000 USD per year per machine. If you purchase more of our services, the price will drop to around US$30,000. This would then include all services.

Read the other episodes of this series here.


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