From next month, an autonomous baggage tractor will join its manned counterparts in serving flights at Singapore’s Changi Airport, as part of a trial of such driverless vehicles.
The driverless tractor, which has a maximum speed of 15kmh, will be able to pull up to four unit loading devices - containers used to load luggage onto aircraft - from the baggage handling area to the aircraft bay.
The TractEasy - jointly developed by aviation ground support equipment manufacturer TLD and driverless vehicle firm EasyMile - is equipped with a bevy of equipment such as lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors, cameras and antennas for GPS as well as 4G and Wi-Fi.
These allow its location to be tracked, with accuracy to within a centimeter, said Ms Juliette Chia, a senior associate with the Changi Airport Group’s (CAG) airside transformation office.
In 2019, EasyMile was part of a self-driving shuttle bus trial on the National University of Singapore campus, together with transport operator ComfortDelGro and vehicle dealership InchCape.
A demonstration of the TractEasy was conducted for members of the media at Terminal 3 on Friday (Aug 13), ahead of its use to support live flights.
In October last year, the vehicle was first tried out at Terminal 4 - where flights have been suspended since May last year - to test its ability to follow mapped routes in an environment without other vehicles, said Ms Chia.
The tractor was subsequently tested in a “live” environment at Terminal 3, to test its ability to avoid moving obstacles.
“We've just completed the proof of concept, and we're moving towards live flight operations with our ground handling partners, mainly SATS, to see how this tractor can supplement existing live flight operations,” said Ms Chia.
The TractEasy is currently configured to be able to pull up to six tons of baggage, said Ms Chia, adding that this can be increased in future.
She added that CAG hopes to add two other such driverless baggage tractors to the trial in October.
Ms Chia said that baggage tractors were chosen for the trial as they make up about half of all vehicles on the tarmac at Changi Airport. There are currently about 400 manned baggage tractors at Changi Airport.
Noting that a single flight is typically served by multiple baggage tractors, a fleet of three autonomous tractors would be a “meaningful number” to test their use in turning around flights, she said.
This is in line with CAG’s vision of an airport of the future, where airside workers work in higher value-added jobs, supported by autonomous vehicles.
“Changi Airport believes that autonomous vehicle technology and robotics will play a big part in the airport of the future,” said CAG executive vice president for airport management Tan Lye Teck.
“This trial will help us to understand the requirements for safe driverless transportation and help us understand how best to redesign operational processes accordingly,” he added.