Autonomous under special requirements

A robot cab for the airport tarmac

31. März 2022, 13:26 Uhr | Irina Hübner
Autonomer Mercedes V-Klasse auf dem Flughafenrollfeld.
The project was successfully carried out with a suitably equipped Mercedes V-Class.
© Ibeo Automotive Systems

The successfully completed AirPortMover project shows that autonomous driving works under the special safety requirements on the airport tarmac. Ibeo Automotive Systems equipped a Mercedes V-Class with the necessary lidar sensors for this purpose.

After around three years of research and development, the Hamburg-based lidar specialist Ibeo Automotive Systems has completed the AirPortMover project together with the Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel (CAU) and Airbus Operations with a live presentation. The focus of the project, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, was the driverless transport of people, such as aircraft crews, on the taxiway or apron.

The innovation platform GATE InnoAirport provided a test environment under real conditions for the project at Rostock-Laage Airport. With the successful completion of the project on the airport grounds, the project partners demonstrated solutions for fully autonomous driving vehicles under the special challenges and safety conditions of an airport apron.

Combination of lidar sensors and cameras

»Since the start of the project in 2018, the technology has developed at a high speed. This has been very exciting, but also a real challenge. So in the sensor area, we relied on a combination of Ibeo's solid-state lidar sensors and cameras right from the start,« says Max Stehn, who was responsible for the project as Autonomous Driving Project Manager for Ibeo.

»Solid-state sensors are much more compact and require less maintenance than conventional lidar sensors and have no moving parts. At the same time, they offer greater vertical coverage of the environment, which means they can also reliably detect objects positioned higher than themselves - for example, aircraft tail units. With the ibeoNEXT sensors, we have implemented 360° coverage to detect both static and dynamic obstacles around the vehicle. This is particularly important when approaching an aircraft.«

Challenges still exist, however, he said, in terms of the large amount of data that must be processed in real time and then relayed to the respective vehicle functions. »However, with the rapid development of computing power and possible shifts of computing power to the cloud, these technical hurdles are foreseeably under control,« Stehn added.

Mercedes V-Class fully autonomous on the tarmac

A live presentation on site showed how well the system works, with an equipped Mercedes V-Class maneuvering various test candidates fully autonomously across the tarmac to different aircraft models.

»As a team, we proved that today's technology is capable of safely and reliably ensuring the complex challenges of object localization in the smallest of spaces. This is accomplished, for example, on the apron, where shuttle vehicles are brought up to aircraft. I am sure that we and the project partners will gain further important insights in this area and from this project in the near future,« says project manager Professor Dirk Nowotka from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel.

Progressive automation of airport processes

»As an idea generator for global air travel and an innovation driver for airport operations, our focus is on the comfortable and sustainable journey of the passenger with baggage, from arrival at the airport and the time spent there to boarding and deboarding, including transfers, as well as the efficient transport of cargo. Automation enables just that - and in many areas. In the case of the AirPortMover, an important safety component is added - here, automation decouples mobility in a safety-relevant area from human weaknesses, such as short-term inattention. On behalf of the entire team, I am very proud to have been able to give this important project an appropriate stage here on the grounds of GATE InnoAirport,« adds Kevin Fischer, Innovation Manager of GATE, the association of airport equipment suppliers.

The project partners

As a specialist in lidar sensors, the associated software and accompanying systems, Ibeo Automotive Systems aims to play a decisive role in shaping the future of mobility. Relevant here are solutions for individual road traffic as well as for logistics, rail or self-contained environments such as airports.

As the scientific center of Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel University has dedicated itself, among other things, to questions concerning the sustainable and innovative development of mobility. A key aspect in the introduction of autonomous means of transport is their safe functioning and high trustworthiness. The »Reliable Systems« working group, headed by Professor Dirk Nowotka, is addressing the project topic particularly against the background of approval procedures.

Airbus accompanied the project with important information on the topics of process flows on the airport apron, requirements for communication between the airport tower and autonomous vehicle, and the infrastructure needed for this.

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