Changi Airport trials use of driverless tractor to fetch luggage from planes

SINGAPORE – A driverless tractor will start fetching luggage from planes landing at Changi Airport Terminal 3 from September, in the next stage of a trial that began in October last year.

This is the first push in the airport’s goal of using autonomous vehicles at scale with the aim of increasing manpower productivity.

The autonomous tractor can tow up to 6,000kg of baggage, which is the same load as the traditional driven tractor. Two tractors are needed to clear baggage from a plane with a full load of passengers.

During a preview of the vehicle on Friday (Aug 13), Changi Airport Group (CAG) said it will be working with ground handler Sats to use the vehicle for live flight operations.

This will free up airside staff from driving duties to focus on more complex operations such as last-mile baggage handling, said Ms Juliette Chia, senior associate of airport operations at CAG’s airside transformation office.

“It can really change the way the airport deploys manpower.”

CAG executive vice-president of airport management Tan Lye Teck said: “Changi Airport believes that autonomous vehicle technology and robotics will play a big part in the airport of the future.

“These trials will help us to understand the requirements for safe driverless transportation and how best to design operational processes.”

There are currently about 400 traditional baggage tractors being used in Changi Airport.

The autonomous tractor was developed by airport ground support equipment manufacturer TLD and autonomous vehicle firm EasyMile. Both are French companies.

The tractor uses lidars (light detection and ranging) global positioning systems technology and wireless technology to enable it to operate without a driver. It is able to track distances accurately down to 1cm.

Since the trials started, progress in its autonomous operations has now seen the tractor plying programmed routes without the need for a safety driver in the vehicle.

Ms Chia said CAG also worked with the manufacturers to adapt the vehicle for local use, such as tweaking its design to let it work better in humid weather.

The autonomous tractor is currently programmed to travel at a slower speed of 15kmhas a safety precaution – half the speed that traditional baggage tractors operate at.

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CAG said the tractor is currently programmed for one route at T4 and four at T3.

Two more tractors are expected to be added to the fleet in September.

Should the trial progress smoothly, more of such vehicles are expected to be deployed for baggage operations in time.

CAG declined to reveal the cost of each tractor, citing commercial sensitivities.

On CAG’s long-term goals in terms of the use of autonomous vehicles, Ms Chia said: “We are aiming for this airport of the future where… airside workers are in higher value-added jobs and are supported by autonomous vehicles.”

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