September 23, 2021

Kar go RAF 400x275U.K.-based Academy of Robotics and the Royal Air Force have announced a new trial deployment of autonomous vehicles on an airbase as part of the RAF’s Astra campaign to deliver next-generation Air Force capabilities. This marks the first time that autonomous vehicles have been deployed on a U.K. airbase by the RAF.

The Academy of Robotics’ Kar-go Delivery Bot will make deliveries of tools, equipment and supplies to locations within the RAF Brize Norton, located near Oxford. RAF personnel will then go out to meet the vehicle, at which point a hatch will automatically release enabling the personnel to collect the package.

During the trial, the vehicles will perform autonomous and semi-autonomous procedures, with a safety team monitoring from a mobile command hub. The hub is a secure mobile unit that can oversee all aspects of the vehicles’ operations, and take control of the vehicle if necessary.

For security reasons, only trained and authorized personnel can move goods around an airbase, but the use of secure, autonomous vehicles could offer valuable support to personnel, freeing up their time to focus on the core roles they were trained for, Academy of Robotics said. Because the vehicles are electric, the technology also opens up opportunities to reduce harmful emissions, helping the RAF on its mission to achieve net zero by 2040.

Funding for the trial comes from the RAF’s Astra program, with Academy of Robotics matching the investment. The Astra program aims to involve regulars, reserves, civilians and contractors to drive change by working smarter, innovating internally and creating the right environment for ideas to flourish.

“Bringing self-driving technology onto a base offers many advantages,” said Tony Seston, squadron leader, RAF engineer and Astra ambassador. “Ultimately, we could see fleets of autonomous vehicles with different autonomy levels delivering supplies, spares, tools, food and also providing airfield services such as aircraft fueling, runway sweeping and snow and ice clearance. Our recruits receive world-class training. If new technology can help to ensure we are enabling them to use that training as effectively as possible, we need to look at how we can integrate it into our current processes. However, we must ensure we introduce this in a way that is secure and safe for our personnel. We see this trial as our first steps into understanding how we can deliver this vision safely.”

Academy of Robotics founder and CEO William Sachiti said the Kar-go delivery vehicle is just one part of a complete autonomous technology system. “Moving goods securely around a site is a major challenge for almost all large organizations, and although we have optimized everything we do to be able to do trials like this, every site has its own nuances and challenges,” said Sachiti. “The fact that we have designed and built every aspect of the self-driving system – from the vehicle to the software and the mobile command center – has been a huge benefit here giving us complete control and making it much easier to adapt it to the specific integration challenges of the environment we are operating in.”

The RAF said that following the first trial, it will review the findings and look at how it can be scaled effectively as part of their commitment to bringing innovation into the RAF. “We are proud to have been able to collaborate with a leading British technology firm to help them understand the specific challenges of working on an active airbase and pioneer this use of self-driving technology,” said Seston. “Having worked so closely with the team at Academy of Robotics on this project, we are confident that the insights from the trial will help us to design and develop processes to deliver smarter logistics to meet the requirements of a next generation Air Force.”

For more details on Academy of Robotics, visit its website here.

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