The aviation industry is a significant contributor to carbon emissions both in the sky and on land. Many of its ground operations lead to pollution because they involve fossil fuels. Take, for example, luggage management at the airport. Your travel luggage is usually lugged around the airport by vehicles using internal combustion engines.
To eliminate the pollution from these machines, Groupe ADP, the company that operates the airports in Paris, has started trialing the use of electric transport luggage machines. Apart from relying on batteries, the vehicles will function themselves.
These autonomous transporters can carry luggage bins with about 40 suitcases. They find their way around through GPS and sensors. A server at the backend monitors them using a combination of humans and artificial intelligence.
Groupe ADP embarked on this trial as part of its shift from fossil fuel to sustainable energy in its operations.
Orok, the robotic startup which developed the autonomous electric system, claims the new vehicles can increase efficiency, reduce or eliminate carbon emissions, and cut operating expenses by 50%. Groupe ADP agreed to work with Orok after winning the airport operator’s innovation contest for cargo handling applications.
KLM-Air France was the first airline to benefit from the new electric luggage movers in August.
For now, travelers at Charles de Gaulle might not see the electric haulers in action. This is because the trial is limited to transporting empty baggage containers inside Air France cargo freight warehouse G1XL. Groupe ADP is taking on the project in phases and is not ready to introduce the electric vehicles into the thick of things yet. It will protect moving parts and other delicate structures in the air from damages at this early stage.
If this trial stage proves successful and Orok works out the kinks in its system, Groupe ADP will promote the autonomous vehicles to pull battered luggage around in real-world conditions. Here, Orok will deploy a new generation of its more efficient vehicles. Groupe ADP will begin working on modalities for the general use of the self-driving electric haulers.
Despite its cautious approach, Groupe ADP and its partners look forward to decreasing work-related injuries, moving luggage faster, and reducing the ground surface area it needs for its luggage operation due to more precise maneuvering.
Orok cofounder and president Pierrick Boyer said, “We strongly believe in the complete automation of the tarmac because, thanks to this type of solution, we bring operational peace of mind and better working conditions, while reducing operational costs and expenses related to accidents. Not to mention the optimization of flows and the ecological aspect, since our solution is 100% electric.”
Orok couldn’t have chosen a better location for trying out its technologies. Charles de Gaulle is a popular airport and handles lots of cargo. It is among the busiest in the world, with parking slots for 79 planes and 24 hours a day operation. More than 4 million tons of cargo pass through the airport annually.
If Orok and Groupe ADP succeed in this trial and go live with the autonomous system, it will be a template for airports globally to follow to reduce their carbon footprint and operating costs, double blessings for humanity.
“Thanks to this experiment with Orok’s autonomous vehicles, we are testing innovative tools alongside Air France to improve the performance and safety of air freight activities, for which Paris-Charles de Gaulle is one of the leading airports. This autonomous technology is promising to help us transform our processes while contributing to the environmental transition of our ground operations,” said Groupe ADP CEO Edward Arkwright.
Christophe Boucher, Executive Vice President of Air France Cargo, stated: “Air France continues to work on innovative, viable projects enabling the company to improve the efficiency and reliability of its operations, as well as reducing its carbon footprint. Since summer 2021, the Cargo teams have been pleased to welcome the startup OROK at the G1XL freight station. This startup is testing the transport of pallets and containers using autonomous vehicles. This joint collaboration with Groupe ADP illustrates our collective ambition to support promising projects for reducing the carbon footprint of our ground activities.”
There are some unknowns as Orok has not released the capabilities of its system, like battery size, charging times, driving range, etc.