Self-driving shuttle trialled at Birmingham Airport

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A zero-emissions, self-driving shuttle will be trialled for six weeks at Birmingham Airport in the UK.

Designed and manufactured by autonomous vehicle manufacturer Aurrigo, the Auto-Shuttle can carry up to 10 passengers and uses a range of sensors, including lidar, to understand its surroundings and move around safely.

The project aims to test how connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) might be integrated into the area’s transport network. The shuttle was initially demoed at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, where it operated autonomously on local roads for the first time while carrying passengers along a pre-mapped section of Pendigo Way.

In this latest deployment, the shuttle will be used to transport passengers around a longer and more complex route at Birmingham Airport while again interacting with other road users. The trial route will provide airport staff with a temporary service linking the departures entrance and Diamond House to Car Park 5.

For testing, the shuttle will be limited to a top speed of 32km/h. In line with current legislation, a safety operator will be on board at all times and will be able to take control of the shuttle at any point if required. The passenger trials will be open to members of the public in addition to airport staff.

This project forms part of the wider West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)-funded UK Central investment program, which is delivering projects ranging from walking and cycling improvement schemes through to town center redevelopments.

Henriette Breukelaar, director of economic strategy at the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, said, “It’s fantastic to see this fully electric autonomous vehicle operating at Birmingham Airport. We allocated £250,000 (US$329,000) from our Local Growth Fund into this trial as we recognize the huge potential for connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

Councillor Ian Courts, leader of the local council, said, “We’re excited to be the first council in the country to purchase our very own zero-emission, road-legal, shared-use connected autonomous vehicle and we are keen to put it to use. Already one of the best-connected destinations in the UK and Europe, Birmingham Airport is the perfect place to trial our shuttle, providing the CAV with a busy but controlled environment in which to gain further real-world operating experience.

“The results of our trials will inform our future mobility services and highway infrastructure design across the wider region, including integration across the UK central hub including the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway interchange at Arden Cross. Road transport accounts for nearly 40% of our borough’s carbon emissions but shared-use automated vehicle technology presents us with a fantastic opportunity to address the dual issues of vehicle emissions and single-occupancy journeys.

Nick Barton, chief executive of Birmingham Airport, said, “Autonomous technology promises enormous benefits to airports and the service companies that support them, with the potential to transform the way we work and improve efficiency and safety for passengers, staff and other airport users. We are really excited to be working with Solihull Council on this trial, which will provide us with invaluable insight into how we can start to safely incorporate CAVs into our vehicle fleet. This trial of fully electric vehicles, and testing their capabilities on-site, is making sure we are working toward our net zero carbon target by 2033.”

Miles Garner, sales and marketing director at autonomous shuttle manufacturer Aurrigo, said, “Aviation is a major opportunity for Aurrigo, with a genuine desire to find new technologies that can improve the passenger experience. This could be through our driverless shuttles, our Auto-Sim modeling software or it could be through our Auto-Dolly cargo/luggage dolly, which can replace the traditional tugs that are commonplace in airports all over the world.”

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