British Airways is hoping to improve punctuality and speed up the long wait for luggage with autonomous baggage vehicles.
The UK carrier is trialing the emissions-free autonomous vehicles at its home hub at London Heathrow where it operates up to 800 flights a day.
This translates to about 75,000 bags transported between the baggage hall and aircraft.
The airline is working with the airport and autonomous vehicle specialist Aurrigo to test the autonomous vehicles in what is believed to be a world first.
Aurrigo has developed autonomous “pods” designed to transport people around areas such as large corporate campuses, hospitals, science parks and factories.
“Our driverless pods are now in operation all around the world and the work with IAG, BA and Heathrow Airport shows how similar technology can be used in a completely different industry to deliver a significant result,’’ Aurrigo chief executive David Keene said.
The vehicles, known as dollies, carry up to 40 bags in one journey and use the latest navigating technology to memorize the airfield and determine the shortest route to transport luggage.
Unlike current vehicles, the dollies depart for the aircraft as soon as each one is full, speeding up the aircraft loading process.
The airline says the vehicles also tie in with its environmental commitment to run an emissions-free airside operation.
“We are always looking at ways to improve efficiency and modernize our operation to ensure that we are delivering bags to and from our aircraft on time and without delay,” said British Airways’ airports director Raghbir Pattar.
A successful trial could see dollies running bags to and from aircraft by 2021.
British Airways already operates remote-controlled Mototok vehicles powered by renewable electricity at Heathrow to pushback all of its short-haul flights and is trialing the devices for long-haul flights.
The airline estimates the vehicles save 7,400 tonnes of C02 every year compared to traditional tugs.
It also operates environmentally-friendly electric taxis to transport premium transiting customers between their arriving and departing flights.