Said to be the busiest airport in the world, the Hartfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia sees over 8 million passengers travel through it on a monthly basis. It earned the distinction of being the first airport in the world to serve more than 100 million passengers in a single year. The airport has a $34.8 billion economic impact for metro Atlanta and is the state’s largest employer, generating more than 63,000 jobs on-site. Not surprisingly, the airport prides itself on its customer service. Understanding that about one in every hundred passengers needs assistance in the airport, the airport is in the process of testing self-driving robot pods to help enhance the travel experience for people with mobility issues.
The robot pods are the brainchild of A&K Robotics, a Canadian company founded on a belief that robotic technologies can drastically improve our world and our quality of life. The company develops robots that helps people move from place to place, and in 2019 the company’s Autonomous People Mover (APM) was winner of the Airport Shark Tank at the 5th Annual Airport Innovation Forum. The product is designed to improve mobility assistance in airports and was selected as the solution with the greatest impact by the audience of aviation industry leaders.
Recently the APM’s technical capabilities tested at the Atlanta airport, in conjunction with Southwest Airlines, by using an autonomous pod to transport people with limited mobility. Part of the test is to see how the APM can autonomously navigate in a live terminal, during normal operating conditions in Concourse C. The way it worked was that a single pod would carry a single person—and about 20 people took part in the test. To deem the test a success, the APM had to deliver travelers to their gates as well as throughout the concession areas, navigating around crowds, avoiding obstacles and safely transporting people to their destination within the airport concourse.
The self-driving pods are over 99% autonomous, according to A&K, and helps move passengers around the airport using real-time traffic data and machine learning. A&K robotics told Novus Light that the automated platform uses both lidar, camera based sensors and additional systems. In the test, the pod successfully navigated passengers autonomously between gates, shops, and washrooms in the live terminal. The Atlanta airport and Southwest teams considered the test a success. The overall feedback from the test was excellent, according to A&K Robotics.
“We have been looking for advanced mobile robotics solutions to improve operations and found that A&K has the most advanced autonomous micro mobility solution for PRM assistance,” said Jai Farrell, deputy general manager and chief commercial officer, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “This is the first time we are testing robots at the departure level and the results are very impressive. We are looking forward to expanding the tests and possibly adding A&K’s pods to our existing PRM operations, making it easier for our passengers to navigate the airport.”
A&K’s autonomous technology is being tested at the Atlanta Airport’s departure level in Concourse C, in collaboration with Southwest Airlines.
“We designed our autonomous platform to positively impact the world, improve quality of life and play a major role in the future of transportation,” said Jessica Yip, COO, A&K Robotics. “To see our innovation being considered by Atlanta Airport to enhance the travel experience of passengers with limited mobility, is exhilarating. We are looking forward to collaborating with the Airport Authority and the Southwest team to bring the best experience possible for the PRMs.”