Gatwick Airport will carry out trials of electric-powered autonomous vehicles in partnership with Oxbotica,
The partner company Oxbotica develops software that enables vehicles to run autonomously without reliance on GPS or any other technology outside the vehicle.
Together the two companies will carry out trials, which will send airport workers in autonomous vehicle shuttles between popular locations within the airfield. The aim of the project is to reduce the need for larger vehicle fleets, which will reduce emissions and save on costs.
If successful and scaled up, the trial could result in airfield transport needs being met from a smaller pool of autonomous vehicles, reducing the need for large vehicle fleets, reducing emissions and saving on costs.
For the trial period no passengers or aircraft will be involved, which will be conducted on airside roads between the airport’s North and South terminals. Data collected from the trials will demonstrate that autonomous vehicles can work safely on an airfield, before passengers can be put in the vehicles. The data collected will be used in dialogue with the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and others.
Gatwick airport has said additional uses can be explored if the trial proves the technology fit for purpose for an airport. The IATA, the trade body for the world’s airlines, advocates more than 40 use cases for autonomous vehicles, including push back tugs, passenger load bridges and baggage vehicles.
“If this trial proves successful, then in the future we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail as and when they need to travel,” Cathal Corcoran, CIO of Gatwick Airport, said. “The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, their associated costs and harmful emissions.”
Oxbotica vehicles are currently involved in other trials on UK roads. Currently, a fleet of autonomous vehicles is being developed that will run between Oxford and London.
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Gatwick Airport CIO Cathal Corcoran said: “If this trial proves successful, then in the future we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail as and when they need to travel.”
Trials are expected to begin later this year, which will mark the first of its kind for any airport according to Gatwick Airport.
Corcoran said: “This trial is just the start and much more research will be needed, but ultimately this could be the start of widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world.”