Autonomous Snow Clearing: Reaching the Next Level

Sept. 26, 2022
Stuttgart Airport is a test bed for new winter service technology.

On the Stuttgart apron, the Aebi Schmidt Group and Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH presented what the future of winter service could look like with autonomously operating vehicles and equipment. The system tested at Stuttgart Airport is fully integrated for the first time.  

The airport sweepers equipped with the so-called AirfieldPilot from the Aebi Schmidt Group are able to clear runways, taxiways and the apron of snow and ice without a driver. Precisely defined routes can already be covered autonomously at Stuttgart Airport. During the test drives, the teams from Aebi Schmidt and the state airport tested various functions. This includes following a route, interacting with other, conventional winter service equipment when driving in a convoy, and using snow ploughs, rotary brushes and blowers in accordance with specified clearing concepts. The new technology is intended to help ensure that the airport is always cleared quickly and efficiently, even when visibility is poor due to darkness or fog.

STR: A Proving Ground

Automating snow removal at airports is considered challenging. There are special traffic conditions there anyway, which are made even more difficult by winter weather. The requirements for safety and efficiency are high. Autonomous vehicles must be integrated into airport processes and work with centimeter precision. To be on the safe side, there is always a person in the vehicle during the tests who could stop it. When the new developments can be used regularly for snow and ice on the STR for the first time depends primarily on the legal framework.

Individual components of winter service vehicles have been able to be operated automatically for some time. The manufacturer has now succeeded in creating a fully integrated system in which the truck and snow sweeper are controlled via the same platform. The journeys on the STR were part of the "SmartFleet - autonomous commercial vehicles for safe and efficient airport use" project, which started in 2019 and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection. In addition to Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH and Aebi Schmidt Deutschland GmbH , the consortium also includes VOLK Fahrzeugbau GmbH, which is developing an autonomous luggage tow tractor. During their three-year collaboration, the partners also explored the effects of the technology on the work environment. Autonomous devices should support airports in the future. The research project has a total volume of around 3.9 million euros.