Gatwick Airport to trial autonomous vehicles for airfield transport

Autonomous vehicle to be used in the trial (Image courtesy of Gatwick Airport)

Autonomous vehicle to be used in the trial (Image courtesy of Gatwick Airport)

The UK’s Gatwick Airport announced this week that it is to trial autonomous vehicles to transport staff across its airfield.

The trial this summer, part of a pilot study to demonstrate that the vehicles can work safely on airfields, will see airport workers driven between popular airfield locations by electric, autonomous vehicles.

Gatwick believes that the trial is the first of its kind and could replace the large vehicle fleets required for airfield transport with a smaller pool of autonomous 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,” said Gatwick’s Chief Information Officer Cathal Corcoran.

“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.”

No passengers or aircraft will be involved in the trial, which will be run in partnership with autonomous vehicle developer Oxbotica.

“Airports offer an incredibly interesting domain for our autonomous driving software,” said Oxbotica CEO Dr Graeme Smith.

“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.”

If the trial is successful, it could lead to autonomous vehicles being used for a number of tasks at airports, including as push back tugs, passenger load bridges and baggage vehicles.

Gatwick’s 300 airside vehicles are currently stationary 90% of the time, meaning that a move to autonomous vehicles could reduce emissions and costs for the airport.