Pittsburgh Airport in Pennsylvania, US, is testing autonomous delivery vehicles to deliver select passengers a contactless delivery system.

The brainchild of startup tech company, Ottonomy, IO, the autonomous delivery vehicles are the latest pilot project to be trialled in coordination with the airport’s xBridge innovation hub. The vehicles will transport products sold in airport’s shops to travellers who typically do not stop to visit stores or eateries in the airport.

“We are committed to providing the best customer experiences by discovering and implementing innovative solutions that utilise cutting-edge technology,” said xBridge Director, Cole Wolfson. “We’ve built a culture of innovation and we are excited to partner with Ottonomy to advance this technology in an airport environment.”

The innovative technology enables customers to order goods via an app on their phone. The robot will then collect the necessary items and swiftly deliver them to the customer at their gate.

“Across the globe, airports are similar,” says Ritukar Vijay, co-founder and CEO of Ottonomy.IO. “There might be large and smaller ones, but more or less the overall setup is similar. So that gives us scale: if it works at a couple of airports, it is applicable to almost all of them.”

Having launched in 2020, during the pandemic when robotic delivery vehicles were already being deployed in various environments, Vijay explains most were teleoperated or remotely piloted by humans.

Ottonomy.OI, he says is better positioned to scale up and avoid the impact of labour shortages as his autonomous robots do not require human assistance.

“We focused on full autonomy right from day one,” adds Vijay. “Our approach has been to ensure that the Ottobot would have the capacity to run autonomously in crowded and dynamic environments,” he continued.

Earlier versions of the robots have previously been tested in Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky, where they were equiped with LIDAR and a wide variety of sensors were rolled out at the end of 2021.

The new version has been upgraded to improve maneuverability. It can perform zero-radius turns and crabwalk or move sideways to help it move through crowded terminals and avoid people and obstacles in its path.

“Airports are a unique spot,” noted Vijay. ” There’s some amount of structure and scale. It is very dynamic, where the users are concerend. That kind of dynamic environment, that is very, very important to figure out how autonomous navigation can be utilised within that space.”

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