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A taxibot working at Schiphol airport. The semiautonomous airplane tows the plane from the docking finger to the runway saving fuel and decreasing pollution. Image credit: Royal Schiphol Group

Today tow vehicles push the airplane away from the finger position onto the apron. The pilot power on the engines and the plane will start taxiing to the runway that in some airports can be a long one, like in Schiphol where it may take more than 20 minutes to get there. In addition several busy airports have long queues that keep airplanes on the tarmac for a significant amount of time, all along consuming fuel and polluting the environment.

Now Schiphol starts to experiment with two “taxibots”, semiautonomous tow vehicles that dock autonomously with the airplane at the finger and communicate with the pilots. When the pilots is ready (and authorised by the tower) the taxibot pushes the airplane out of its parking position onto the apron and then pulls it along the taxiways up to the entrance of the assigned runway. The pilot remains in command and supervises the towing.

Once the runway entrance is reached the taxibot detaches from the airplane, the pilot powers on the engines and the airplane is on its own. The taxibot will go back, autonomously, to serve another airplane.

The taxibot can reduce fuel consumption up to 85% and reduce noise pollution by 60%. given the rising cost of fuel that is not peanuts.

If the experiment is successful Schiphol will expand the use of taxibots to make airport taxiing more sustainable in terms of fuel consumption and CO2 emission.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.