A proof of concept in driverless tech for the aviation industry hit the tarmac at Cincinnati International Airport earlier this year. An autonomous tractor hauls baggage carts back and forth on predefined routes between the terminal and parked planes. It can avoid obstacles and other vehicles — and most importantly, planes on the move — that it encounters along the way.
For nearly a year prior to the January demo, ThorDrive mapped the airfield, then transferred its tech to the Wollard International baggage tractor. The company says any ground support vehicle used around the airport can be similarly outfitted.
At first, a small ThorDrive cargo van ran the airport routes in early tests. Then came the Wollard, a familiar standard vehicle from a Wisconsin manufacturer of ground support equipment. It bears LED light bars that signal its status to everyone in the area. When operating autonomously, the light bar shines bright green while the tractor goes about its business.
Camera vision aboard the tractor detects colors and objects, which are then classified into categories. LiDAR also surveys the environment, generating 3D images of the area. ThorDrive’s software stack uses the images to issue programmed instructions when encountering different categories of objects to avoid.
ThorDrive hopes to hit the market with commercial units by the end of 2021.