Aurrigo was approached by International Airlines Group (IAG) to use its driverless expertise to develop the world’s first autonomous ‘dolly’, a common piece of ground-handling equipment normally used to move loose baggage and cargo to and from aircraft.
The trial started in March and has seen an existing dolly converted using LIDAR and GPS technology into a self-driving, electric vehicle that could increase the speed of loading and unloading luggage at airports throughout the world.
Working with British Airways (BA), the adapted dolly has been moving around Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and is now also operating in the baggage handling area.
Designed, developed and manufactured at Aurrigo’s advanced engineering centre in Coventry, the firm said it will now embark on a global marketing programme to talk to the world’s airports and airlines about retrofitting existing dollies to make them fully autonomous and to explore production of a new range of super lightweight versions for extended operational performance.
“Until you have seen it first-hand, it’s difficult to explain how big an operation it is moving bags around an airport. In Terminal 5 alone, BA operates around 900 dollies,” said Richard Fairchild, operations director of Aurrigo.
“The current method is to have one manually driven tug towing three dollies behind. It can’t move until they are all full, which means there are a lot of empty dollies waiting around.”
He continued: “What IAG wanted to do was look at an alternative solution and that’s where we came in, using knowledge gained from our…Pod Zero passenger carrying vehicle to turn a standard dolly into a self-driving vehicle capable of moving bags from the baggage hall to the aircraft stand.
“Better still, this means that each dolly can move on its own and doesn’t need to wait for all three to be loaded, providing greater flexibility and speed of loading, not to mention reducing the need to maintain such a huge fleet of dollies and tugs.”
Aurrigo and IAG are now looking at ways they can roll this technology out so that it becomes an integral part of any ‘future airport’.
A successful trial of the technology as part of a live service will confirm that autonomous dollies can be used safely airside to deliver a whole host of cost and efficiency savings.
“Our driverless pods are now in operation all around the world and the work with IAG and BA shows how similar technology can be used in a completely different industry to deliver significant results,” said David Keene, CEO of Aurrigo. “We are now exploring different ways where we can create the production line and supply chain to rapidly build thousands of these autonomous dollies.”