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Thursday 30 December 2021

Meet Larch....


Larch on the pier on a cold and frosty morning!

In November I was approached by Hans from MWLC in the Netherlands to see if Graemsay folk would be interested in being a pilot project for testing of an electric autonomous vehicle (AVs). No not a "remote" car, but something that might be able to deliver parcels or similar.  This project is funded by HITRANS (the Highlands and Islands Regional Transport Partnership). The Orkney project base is at the Orkney Research & Innovation Campus in Stromness.

So, after some discussion it was agreed that the small AV (rover) would run tests between the Graemsay pier and my house, along the public road.  So Larch duly arrived on Graemsay and began the pilot.......  

Folk on the island were aware of what time the trials would take place, and were invited to come and watch, ask questions, raise concerns etc. and yes smile and make jokes!

For the pilot Larch was connected via the 4G mobile network to MWLC in the Netherlands and they could control Larch, and see through the camera.  The idea was that Larch would first learn the route before being able to do this automatically.

Larch leaving the pier.....

Larch at Sandside

Larch heading up the road back to the pier....

Off it goes....

Unfortunately, despite this side of the island generally having an excellent 4G signal, Larch ran into difficulties on the Windbreck brae and had to be guided down to the pier, as the camera wasn't working.

What happens if it meets oncoming traffic I hear you ask?  Well it then stops and sends a signal back to the operator who takes control and moves Larch off the road.  And yes there are high verges and ditches - again this is why pilots are necessary to test in real world situations.  There were some tractors and cars heading to the pier for the cargo run so Larch got some practice in getting out the way.  Though I think at one point due to loss of signal it was hauled along on a piece of baler twine.

Larch is a prototype and full of electronics, and not, as yet, able to manage any kind of parcels or other "freight".  But that's what research and development is all about - getting things to work operationally.

Despite the problems losing the 4G connection, and poor Larch needing to be carried or dragged along,  the team in the Netherlands were largely pleased with the trial as it enabled them to collect a lot of data.

Though there was much skepticism and amusement on the island as to the practicality of such vehicles being useful here, it was interesting to see.  It was also good to be able to provide real-world situations for future development.

On one of the more northerly of the Orkney Islands, Papa Westray, the local school are running the project with the children able to be involved.  They are transporting food from the school and community garden to the school kitchen etc.  So a great opportunity for the children to learn about what are likely to be future developments and take part in the pilots.

Here - well Larch is due back in January so we will see how it gets on this time!

Do take a look at MWLC Global's website (click here) - and you can see more practical uses and models.


  1. What an interesting project and its exciting to be in it from the beginning. I would think there is definitely a future for this sort of transport, as with the drones that they can use for outlying areas.

    1. Yes definitely something that is likely to become more used in the future. Interesting to see how it all develops.

  2. And Button? What does Button make of Larch?

    1. Button dislikes anything that means my full attention is not on her. I think she stomped off to the byres till the excitement died down...

  3. That's really interesting. Something different for all to watch
    Happy New Year to you and Buttons