Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France scored a world first last month when it began testing an autonomous baggage tractor under real airport service conditions. Built by Charlatte Autonom, the sensor-laden robotic vehicle called the Autonom Tract AT135 is designed to speed up moving baggage between the sorting area and the aircraft while improving safety.
Because the AT135 is designed for manual as well as autonomous drive it looks like a standard tractor, but inside is an onboard computer, five multi-layers of lidar, front and rear cameras, and inertial and GPS navigation. The electric power train runs off of a 32 kWh battery that gives it a top speed of 15 mph (24 km/h) and the ability to pull up to 25 tonnes.
After it is loaded with baggage, the tractor's destination is programmed using a touchscreen and that rolls out to the aircraft under its own guidance. When it reaches the airliner, it automatically stops for unloading and then returns to the sorting area for another load while being updated by the airport's traffic signals.
The AT135 was developed jointly with Navya, which supplied the autonomous driving system; Groupe 3S with its ground-handling expertise; Air France; Toulouse-Blagnac airport; and TCR, which is responsible for maintenance and operations. It has been in operation since November 15, 2019 and according to Vincent Euzeby, head of IT & Tech Innovation at Air France, this real-world test is "the first step to a more widespread roll-out of autonomous vehicles at our airports."