Electric autonomous vehicles set for Gatwick airfield trial

Posted: 19 March 2018 | | No comments yet

Gatwick will be the first airport in the world to trial autonomous vehicles for the movement of staff across the airfields, with the project expected to reduce vehicle numbers, emissions and costs…

Autonomous vehicles will be trialled across Gatwick’s airfields

Gatwick has implemented a pilot study to demonstrate how autonomous vehicles can work safely on an airfield, which if successful, could lead to ‘an Uber-like service’ where staff will hail a vehicle when they need to travel across the airfield.

The trial, the first of its kind for airports around the world, will begin in summer 2018 and will see workers shuttled between popular locations on the airfield by electric-powered autonomous vehicles.

If effective, the trial could lead to airfield transport needs being met from a much smaller pool of autonomous vehicles. With the current 300 airside vehicles at Gatwick stationary 90 per cent of the time, the use of autonomous shuttles would reduce the need for such large vehicle fleets, emissions and costs.

Cathal Corcoran, Chief Information Officer, Gatwick Airport, said: “This trial is just the start and much more research will be needed, but ultimately, this could be the beginning of the widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world. The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, emissions and associated costs.”

If the technology is proven in an airfield environment the project may be the precursor to a wide range of other uses, including aircraft push back tugs, passenger load bridges, baggage tugs and transportation buses.

The trial will be run in partnership with Oxbotica – a company that develops software enabling vehicles to run autonomously without reliance on GPS or any other technology outside the vehicle. No passengers or aircraft will be involved in this trial, which will be limited to airside roads between the airport’s North and South terminals.

The data collected will be used in dialogue with the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and others. XL Catlin – a global insurance company – is also interested in being part of the trial to learn more on autonomous airfield vehicles from an insurance perspective.

Dr Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica, said: “Airports offer an incredibly interesting domain for our autonomous driving software. There is a huge diversity of vehicles, each with a very specific mission. The challenge of choreographing all of the activity around an individual plane, or in support of airport operations is immense and we look forward to working closely with Gatwick on this initial pilot that will demonstrate our self-driving technology carrying staff around the airfield.”