Fraport tests the deployment of driverless vehicles

More than six million passengers, over two million tons of freight and almost half a million flights per year: Frankfurt Airport is one of the most significant aviation hubs in the world. The airport has a total of more than 14,800 meters of takeoff and landing strips which must be kept in top condition and free from snow and ice in winter. In an innovative pilot project conducted in cooperation with Daimler AG, Fraport is now testing how automated snow-removal equipment can be implemented in practice.
On the site of the former air base Pferdsfeld, four Mercedes-Benz Aroc tractors will be used within the automated operation of the airfield and integrated into a remote-controlled network for cleaning purposes as part of a project entitled “Automated Airfield Ground Maintenance” (AAGM). This technology may be implemented at Frankfurt Airport in future, which is operated by Fraport, the company which formulated the test requirements. At the airport, up to 13 snow-removal vehicles are currently operated side by side or in a staggered manner in order to clear the runways, which are 60 to 70 meters wide. The drivers belong to a team of around 900 employees who are ready to get to work around the clock at Frankfurt Airport as part of the winter service. The significant outlay required for this in terms of staffing and logistics could be vastly reduced using an automated snow-removal operation.

Driverless snow-removal vehicles stand up to inclement weather conditions

While drivers of conventional clearing vehicles are often faced with unfavorable visibility conditions as a result of snow being whirled up by the driver in front and must constantly ensure that they maintain the precise required distance from the other vehicles in the convoy, driverless snow-removal vehicles get the job done quickly, with precision and without any problems, whatever the weather. The routes to be cleared are pre-mapped and are adhered to both by the lead vehicle and the following convoy members using a differential GPS with a tolerance of only three centimeters and through constant target/actual comparisons.
Using an eight-meter snowplow attached to the front of the vehicle, the main mass of the snow is displaced to one side at speed. The more dexterous tasks involved with cleaning the route are carried out using a sweeper and an air jet, referred to as a jet sweeper. It is transported along as an articulated trailer.
“We are delighted to be one of the first airports in the world to be able to use our expertise to make a contribution to this innovative project,” said Mathias Dudek, Head of Infrastructural Facility Management at Fraport AG. “We are hoping that this will help us to obtain knowledge which will assist us in planning future use of the equipment with greater precision and efficiency if wintry weather descends unexpectedly. Our commitment once again highlights the role of Fraport AG as an innovation driver in the most diverse of areas.”

Testing driverless minibuses in real traffic

Whereas the automated snow-removal equipment is being tested out in non-public areas, Fraport has also tested the use of highly automated vehicles in mixed traffic on a popular road within the airport for the first time as part of an additional pilot project. In October 2017, driverless minibuses operated using electric engines were deployed on the company grounds in collaboration with R+V Versicherung AG. Employees of the airport operator were able to use the shuttles to go to the canteen at lunchtime, for example. In the long-term, it is also possible that automated passenger buses may be operated.

The first test field was a route of 1.5 kilometers in length which runs between Terminal 1 and 2. Around 2,600 vehicles use this road on a daily basis – of which almost half are trucks. In-house vehicles and transportation also use the road, for example, almost 1,000 freight tugs that pass a lock on the route to and from the apron each day. In order to test the driverless vehicles in as widely diverse traffic situations as possible, R+V intends to try out the shuttle buses at different locations following the successful test at Frankfurt Airport. After the approval procedure has been completed, they are to be used on public roads.

Research project on autonomous driving at Frankfurt Airport: At 4.75 meters long and 2.11 meters in width, these minibuses are not much larger than the average transporter but their height exceeds that of most of these vehicles at 2.75 meters.
Anke Giesen, Executive Director Operations, Fraport AG
“As part of our research project, we want to obtain precise insights into the opportunities and risks involved with autonomous vehicles – based on our own data,” said Norbert Rollinger, CEO of R+V Versicherung AG. “We are expecting this technology to enhance the planning of our processes, improving them and making them more flexible,” added Anke Giesen, Executive Director Operations, Fraport AG. “In conjunction with R+V, the opportunity has arisen to test a vehicle which has previously been put through its paces by all of the authorities in the highly complex real traffic situation of our company site.”

The pilot project should contribute to answering outstanding questions concerning mobility in the future. This includes whether driverless cars and conventional vehicles can drive safely and without encountering problems on the same road or how high the level of acceptance is, both for passengers and other road users. The cooperation partners also hope to gain insights concerning the infrastructural support required by autonomous electric vehicles to operate in an optimal manner and which interactive options are made available for the operators and for users of autonomous vehicles.

Text by Benjamin Klare
Photos: Daimler, Fraport