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Self-driving baggage tractor is the latest smart tech for airports

A world first – an autonomous baggage tractor tested in real conditions

An airport in France has become the first in the world to test an autonomous baggage tractor in a working environment. It’s the latest example of how a growing number of industries are looking to utilize the fast-developing technology.

Air France, which has a presence at Toulouse-Blagnac airport where the tractor is being tested, said the introduction of the driverless vehicle takes it “one step closer to creating the smart airport of the future.”

Built by Charlatte Autonom (a partnership between NAVYA, a French leader in autonomous driving technology, and Charlatte Manutention, a prominent manufacturer of airport vehicles), the autonomous baggage tractor is designed to improve safety and enhance baggage flow performance, at the same freeing up operators to “focus on decision-making and management actions, which saves time and efficiency when handling aircraft,” the airport said.

The Autonom Tract AT135, as it’s called, can be driven manually, too, and therefore resembles a regular baggage tractor with a driving seat and steering wheel. But it is also packed with powerful autonomous systems that include an array of sensors and cameras, as well as GPS technology, for safe and accurate navigation.

The battery-powered truck has a top speed of 25 mph, though to be frank, you wouldn’t want a baggage truck going any faster than that considering the proximity of a potentially busy airport runway. When the passengers’ baggage arrives at the sorting area, an airport worker places it in containers connected to the autonomous tractor. The worker then uses a touchscreen in the vehicle to select the destination, sending it on its way. When it reaches the aircraft, the baggage is loaded onto the plane, after which the vehicle is returned to the baggage sorting area for the next lot of baggage.

Airports are looking increasingly at how they can automate tasks at their facilities. We’ve already seen driverless buses ferrying passengers around, as well as autonomous wheel-based robots parking passengers’ cars. Self-driving snowplows are also being tested to keep runways operational around the clock, while in the terminal itself, some airports have been trialing autonomous wheelchairs for passengers and visitors in need of physical assistance, with a wheelchair able to be summoned using a smartphone app.

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Trevor Mogg
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