Cincinnati Airport Tests Autonomous Luggage Vehicle

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is experimenting with autonomous technology from ThorDrive in its vehicles carrying luggage between the terminal and aircraft.

Planes on the tarmac of an airport with the sun rising on the horizon.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is experimenting with autonomous technology from ThorDrive in the vehicles carrying luggage between the terminal and aircraft.
Self-driving technology could take over the job of driving luggage movement vehicles at airports. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is experimenting with autonomous technology in the vehicles carrying luggage between the terminal and aircraft.

One of the airport’s luggage-transporting vehicles — known as ground tugs — has been outfitted with technology from ThorDrive, a maker of AV tech, to explore the various applications and use cases.

“We enacted an ordinance allowing autonomous vehicles and equipment to operate on airport property,” explained Mindy Kershner, a spokesperson for CVG. “Now, airline partners, both passenger and cargo, have the opportunity to partner with ThorDrive to utilize this technology to retrofit their ground equipment.”

The project began in February 2020, said Edward Shelton, vice president for business development at ThorDrive, a company formed in 2016. Earlier this year, the project moved into the actual testing phase.

“In that time it was adapting the software to the environment, but also training it to recognize the aircraft,” said Shelton.

“There are other airports interested,” he said of the ThorDrive AV technology. “But to our knowledge, no airport is as far along as Cincinnati is, and we believe that Cincinnati has the only active autonomous tractor running in North America.”

The autonomous vehicle at CVG still includes a human operator.

Closed, relatively predictable settings like an airport can be ideal use cases for AVs, Shelton said.

“For example, you don’t have children running across the tarmac. You don’t have just random pedestrians running around. So that factor … is removed,” he added.

Other factors such as navigating a “highly critical safety environment” still loom large, said Shelton. Namely, avoiding a collision with an aircraft is of utmost importance.

“That’s a very expensive accident,” he remarked.

Airports and similar settings can also have fewer regulatory hurdles to get past than city streets do.

“It’s a private environment that’s pretty much governed by the airport itself,” Shelton said. “If the airport approved the use of the technology … the stakeholders are known and motivated to move forward.

“From there we just really need to get the ground-handling operator on board, and the airlines on board,” he added. “And these things are moving forward.”

CVG has become a leader when it comes to technology and innovation. The airport has deployed a network of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other tech to better understand and manage the flow of people and baggage. It was the first airport 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, marking when individuals enter and leave the Transportation Security Administration area.
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 Sacramento.
Sponsored Articles
Featured Resources