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London Gatwick Airport Trialling Driverless Vehicles

Travellers could be taken to their planes at Gatwick by self-driving vehicles under plans for the world’s first autonomous shuttle service.

The airport will start a six-month trial of the vehicles this summer as part of an effort to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve safety. The project will begin with a focus on ferrying staff between the north and south terminals. If the proof-of-concept is successful, management at the airport hope to scale up to cover passenger busses, baggage tugs and even the pushback vehicles that are used to steer planes away from terminals.

The trial, which features driverless vehicle software startup Oxbotica is believed to be a world first and “could lead to airfield transport needs being met from a much smaller pool of autonomous vehicles” rather than the traditional fleets of small busses.

Currently, Gatwick has over 300 airside vehicles. 90% of the time these vehicles are stationary, so having a self-driving mode that can get them to places by themselves rather than waiting on a nearby human could see the fleet used more efficiently and potentially reduce the airport’s operational costs.

Thanks to Oxbotica’s tech, any vehicle in Gatwick’s fleet can be made autonomous. The software uses LiDAR which uses rapid pulsing lasers for guidance which means they can retrofit their software directly onto the vehicle. . As such, there’s potential for the airport’s entire vehicle fleet to get some driverless smarts.

“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,” said Cathal Corcoran, chief information officer at Gatwick Airport.

Not such good news for professional drivers

Is this the beginning of the end for professional drivers? Management at Gatwick have not yet to comment on how this will impact staff who carry out these duties but the future certainly looks bleak. It also raises the question on how the new wealth created through AI should be distributed. One solution is a universal basic income – think of it as benefits on steroids, a regular income provided to residents of a country, the money of which is funded by big business and government

Universal basic income is already being trialled in some countries and is gaining moment. Richard Branson is one backer and believes it’s crucial in tackling the rise of AI.

“Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.”, he said.

Richard Young

Richard has been interested in the AI space for some years. Questions of ethics can raise some serious problems. What if AI can learn who is pre-disposed to cancer and then not give them health insurance?

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