ROBOTS TO THE RESCUE

  • Cone dispenser truck with extended robotic arm.
  • Robotic arms loading orange traffic cones back in the cone dispenser truck.
  • Orange traffic cones in the cone dispenser truck.
  • Three RMS employees in high visibility workwear standing alongside the cone dispenser truck.

Every day roadwork crews on the M1 around the Central Coast place down and pick up hundreds of cones. They do this to close lanes for road maintenance and to set up contra-flows after road accidents. 

It can be dangerous work, which led Roads and Maritime’s Luke McPaul, Mechanical Projects Supervisor in Bega, to start thinking about a safer way to work. “Laying cones can be quite a hairy job, particularly on the M1, which has an unbelievable amount of traffic,” says Luke.

Luke and his team set out to find a way they could make it safer for the crews, and found some promising technology in the US. They found a trailer that used a robotic arm to place cones in high-speed, high-volume traffic.

Back in their Waratah workshop in Newcastle they developed their ideas, tweaked the designs and created prototypes. “We had some hurdles to overcome, like how to store as many cones as possible in the truck,” recalls Luke. “But we put our heads together, got creative and came up with a fantastic solution.” 

The truck covers up to 10 kilometres in an hour, can hold up to 300 cones and has a robotic arm that automatically places and retrieves traffic cones along busy roads. Once the truck is loaded with cones the driver simply drives along the traffic lane and the robotic arm does the work! It even picks up cones knocked over by passing traffic. “The cone dispenser truck is a massive improvement on the way we’ve traditionally done this work,” says Luke.

Road crews now don’t need to walk next to traffic handling heavy stacks of cones, it’s twice as fast and requires only one driver to get the job done instead of a crew of four. “It’s really satisfying to know that by using this technology, we’re preventing injuries and making work a safer place to be,” shares Luke.

The team are stoked to have been recognised for their work, with the truck having won several awards including the Safety Award at the 2015 Transport Awards.

Meet more of our safety innovators. Read the other articles in this feature: