Logistics company IAG Cargo has undertaken the first airside trial of a self-driving vehicle at a UK airport as part of ongoing investment into future technologies, with the testing designed to help the carrier understand how autonomous vehicles (AVs) could work in an airside environment.
IAG Cargo has been working in partnership with Oxford-based company developer of self-driving software and vehicles, Oxbotica, and London Heathrow Airport. The cargo operator has been conducting the trials using Oxbotica’s CargoPod AV, which has spent three and half weeks running autonomously along a cargo route around the airside perimeter. The trial collected over 124 miles (200km) of data that will enable IAG and Heathrow to assess potential opportunities for the use of autonomous vehicles in airport environments of the future.
Although the recent tests were in an air cargo environment, it is hoped that if the technology is proven to operate safely across an airfield, the project may be the precursor to a wide range of other AVs being used at airports, including aircraft push back tugs, passenger load bridges, baggage tugs and transportation buses.
Earlier this month, Oxbotica announced that it will be trialling the use of AVs at London Gatwick Airport to shuttle staff across the airfield. Gatwick’s 300 airside vehicles are stationary 90% of the time as staff attend to aircraft and passengers, so when the tests start later this summer, it will see workers transported between popular locations on the airfield.
If successful and scaled up, the pilot project could lead to airfield transport needs being met from a much smaller pool of on-demand AVs, removing the need for such large fleets, in turn reducing emissions and saving on costs.
“We’ve previously trialled autonomous vehicles on public roads, but this is the first test of how they could operate airside at an airport,” noted Dr Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica. “While there were a huge number of variables to consider, including transitioning from indoors to outdoors during each journey, our vision-based localization system performed exceptionally. For us, the trial marks the first step in an ongoing relationship with Heathrow Airport and IAG Cargo.”
Lynne Embleton, CEO at IAG Cargo, said, “Technology is evolving at an incredible pace. We are working with fantastic businesses like Oxbotica to develop new capabilities that will change the way airports function around the world. The trial has yielded valuable insights and is another step in our ongoing commitment to embrace new technologies, improve processes and enhance our offering to our customers.”
Nick Platts, from Heathrow Airport Limited, added, “We’re delighted to have hosted this UK-first trial which will make our cargo facilities faster and more efficient for our customers. We look forward to this technology being adopted across the airport.”