Semcon is developing an autonomous tractor as part of a research project investigating new airport maintenance technology. Designed to keep runway edge-lights clear of snow, the equipment has been tested for the first time at Örnsköldsvik Airport (OER) in Sweden. Monitoring solutions using drones, automatic mowing, and friction measurement systems have also been developed as part of the project.
The AVAP (Autonomous Vehicles for AirPorts) research project aims to demonstrate how vehicle automation can safely help to reduce costs and make airport operation more efficient. In the long run, this will allow smaller airports to remain open and reduce delays for passengers.
“Our part of the project involves developing an autonomous tractor designed to keep runway edge-lights clear of snow. This may not seem like much, but the runway gets closed down if 15% of the lights are non-operational, and this causes significant delays and costs. But more seriously, this presents major safety risks as well,” said Anne Piegsa, technical project manager at Semcon.
The tractor is a Lundberg 6250, around 2.4m tall, 5m long (without attachments) and weighing just over 6 metric tons. It is fitted with a raft of sensors and a central control computer. The tractor is given a plowing task by an operator via 4G and then it calculates how to complete the task, constantly communicating its position and status. Air traffic controllers can also monitor and communicate with the vehicle.
“There is a great deal of innovative force in the region, and combined with short lead times, this has helped when establishing the OER test arena. We can collaborate with partners working with aviation digitization and automation, and increase aircraft availability and efficiency with the research activities being pursued by the Swedish Air Navigation Services Provider LFV,” said Björn Wahlström, head of research at the Swedish Air Navigation Services Provider LFV.
The control system was developed by Yeti Snow Technology, co-owned by Semcon, Husqvarna Group and Øveraasen, and is currently undergoing testing as part of projects involving autonomous snowplows at an airport for Norwegian airport operator Avinor.
Project partners are LFV, OER, RISE, Mid Sweden University, Swedavia, Semcon, Husqvarna, Combitech and FlyPulse.