Gatwick is set to be the first airport in the world to trial driverless vehicles on its airfield.
The pioneering trial is believed by many to be a crucial move in the path towards adopting autonomous vehicles for a variety of purposes worldwide.
Driverless vehicles could potentially reduce traffic, emissions and costs and a pilot study has shown that they can operate safely on an airfield.
Currently, Gatwick operates 300 airside vehicles, which are stationary 90% of the time while staff tend to passengers. The trial of autonomous vehicles, which are electric, will see staff transported between locations to increase efficiency and productivity across the airport.
Gatwick has revealed that if the trial is a success, it could lead to “an Uber-like service” which would enable staff to hail a vehicle when needed. This would allow Gatwick to reduce the number of vehicles required, as well as reducing emissions and saving money.
A successful trial could also see autonomous vehicles being utilised elsewhere in the airport, for example, transportation buses, baggage tugs, passenger load bridges and aircraft pushback tugs.
Gatwick Airport has confirmed that no passengers or aircraft will be involved in this trial – instead, it will be piloted only on airside roads between the airport’s North and South terminals.
Cathal Corcoran, Chief Information Officer, Gatwick Airport, said: “If this trial proves successful then in the future we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail as and when they need to travel.
“This trial is just the start and much more research will be needed, but ultimately this could be the beginning of the widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world. The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, emissions and associated costs.”