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Cincinnati Airport Deploys Autonomous Baggage Handling Tugs

Baggage and cargo movement at airports is emerging as another use case for autonomous vehicle technology, as airlines and airports eye these applications.

Aurrigo Auto-DollyTug moves cargo for Singapore Airlines.
An Aurrigo Auto-DollyTug, which are electric autonomous vehicles complete with “robotic arms,” moves cargo for Singapore Airlines.
Submitted Photo: Aurrigo
Robo-taxis may be grabbing the majority of the autonomous vehicle headlines, but they are far from the only deployments of self-driving technology. Some of the uses are as unsung — and essential — as moving luggage.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is using devices known as Auto-DollyTugs, electric autonomous vehicles complete with “robotic arms,” to handle baggage and cargo on flight lines.

“This is an industry-first feature that will offer a fully autonomous solution from pick up through loading,” said Tenille Houston, vice president of strategy and operations at Aurrigo, a maker of autonomous technology. Aurrigo is partnering with International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company for British Airways and other international carriers, to deploy the tugs at the airport.

“Our role at CVG is to serve as the host and on-site support since this is taking place on our airfield,” said Mindy Kershner, senior manager for communications at CVG. “We are assisting with things like mapping the route for the vehicle, providing space for the team to work, introducing the partners to other stakeholders, ensuring the airport community throughout our campus can learn and benefit from the program. We passed an ordinance years ago to empower our tenants to explore new technologies to have a safe and efficient campus.”

The Auto-DollyTug is integrated into the airport environment with the assistance of Aurrigo’s Auto-Sim technology, which creates a “digital twin” of the airport, establishing a specific geofence area for the autonomous baggage movers to operate within.

“Airports, with their controlled environments and predictable traffic patterns, are indeed promising candidates for autonomous vehicles,” said Houston in an email. “The structured nature of airport operations can facilitate the safe integration and efficient deployment of such vehicles for tasks like passenger and crew transport, and baggage and cargo handling.”

CVG is no stranger to cutting-edge technology. The airport’s first foray into AV technology started with autonomous floor scrubbers. In 2021, the airport trialed autonomous baggage moving technology from ThorDrive.

“We are proud of the work we completed with ThorDrive to advance autonomous ground-support equipment (GSE),” said Kershner. “The difference with this program is it is being led by the airline group to ensure safe and efficient operations.”

CVG also worked with technology company Veovo as part of a deployment of IoT sensor devices to better understand the flow of people and baggage throughout the airport campus. The airport was the first in the United States to use IoT tech in its security screening area, starting in 2014. In that deployment, sensors pick up on passenger Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals to track when individuals enter and leave the Transportation Security Administration area.

“There are many efficiencies to be gained from automation from an airline perspective,” said Kershner, adding technologies like these can help the airline industry deal with worker shortages. Also, transitions toward electric vehicles “is one of the key pillars in our airport sustainability master plan.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.