December 2019 saw a new kind of vehicle enter service at Hong Kong International Airport – an “Autonomous Electric Tractor”.
Airport Authority Hong Kong photo
The tractor was developed by Beijing-based autonomous driving technology startup Uisee Technology, and is used to transport baggage from Terminal 1 to SkyPier.
With the Airport Authority Hong Kong media release describing the reason for their introduction.
The Autonomous Electric Tractor (AET) at Hong Kong International Airport started operating at Hong Kong International Airport on 30th December 2019. It is the first AET to be put into live operation at an airport anywhere in the world. AET has extended its service area starting from October 2020, running between SkyPier and the Baggage Hall at Terminal 1 to deliver baggage for air-to-sea and sea-to-air passengers.
Steven Yiu, Deputy Director, Service Delivery, Airport Authority Hong Kong, said, “Airport Authority Hong Kong spent more than one and a half years, testing the AET operations at Hong Kong International Airport, to develop it to be more reliable, safer and the operation smoother than traditional tractors. Many traffic accidents are caused by drivers having long working hours and fatigue, as well as poor weather conditions like heavy rain or fog. Hong Kong International Airport has deployed the AET based on the considerations of low labour availability, accidents reduction and efficiency improvement.”
By the first quarter of 2021, all traditional baggage tractors operated manually at SkyPier will be replaced by AET tractors.
And the technology behind it.
There is no driver or passenger in the cabin of AET, but this tractor is running between SkyPier and the Baggage Hall at Terminal 1 at a speed of 20km per hour to deliver baggage for air-to-sea and sea-to-air passengers.
The AET is equipped with a highly accurate dGPS system with a range of error of just 10 to 15cm.
Steven Yiu said, “If anything appears within 10 metres of the AET, it will stop immediately. The response is even faster than a human can react. This is because the AET instantly detects objects and calculates the distance of its surrounding within a range of 10 to 35 metres. The braking system will be triggered if anything detected, and the AET will slow down until it stops within 10 metres of the detected object.”
There are two sets, a total of eight HD cameras mounted on the sides of the AET and three lidar sensors to ensure safety and flexibility.
- Autonomous Electric Tractor (AET) media release (Airport Authority Hong Kong)
- HKIA pioneers autonomous electric tractor technology (HK Airport News, February 2020)
- Autonomous Driverless Tractor presentation (Smart Government Innovation Lab)
- An autonomous tractor for industrial transportation tasks (CUHK T Stone Robotics Institute)
- Uisee raises $154M for autonomous driving technology (The Robot Report)