We might soon see this self-driving Honda helping ensure you have a safe flight

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Honda showed how the AWV can monitor and inspect perimetre fences at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Oct. 16.Kunal D’souza/The Globe and Mail

No matter what Elon Musk says, Tesla’s FSD or Full-self Driving feature is not a real self-driving function. As long as a human in the driver’s seat is a requirement – and they will be for a while longer outside of some robotaxi and delivery pilots – full autonomous cars that ordinary people can buy in Canada are a long way out.

While the technology isn’t ready for public roads, there are many cases where self-driving vehicles can be implemented and useful right now.

Honda demonstrated exactly this at Toronto’s Pearson airport this week with its new AWV or Autonomous Work Vehicle.

The AWV was first unveiled as a concept at CES 2018 and it looks like a bathtub on wheels. The current prototype, based on a Honda side-by-side, uses an electric drivetrain to drive all four wheels. It’s five feet wide and about nine feet long with a payload of 399 kilograms and a tow rating of up to 750 kilograms. Fully loaded, it has a range of about 45 kilometres, and can be recharged using a standard 110-volt outlet.

The AWV can be operated fully autonomously using pre-programmed routes and stop points on a virtual map of its surroundings, or manually with a controller.

The Honda AWV demonstration at Pearson was made possible through a collaboration of software and systems from leading technology companies including Illuminex AI, Cisco Canada, Genwave Technologies and Eagle Aerospace.

The AWV is a versatile platform and can be adapted to meet the needs of its clients. From towing and hauling heavy loads across construction sites to inspecting the perimeter fences surrounding Pearson’s vast airfield.

“[The] application of this inspection platform for perimeter inspections advances airport safety, security and operational efficiency by augmenting human capabilities to meet the needs of airport operations,” says Craig Metcalfe, chief operating officer for Illuminex AI.

The Honda AWV, using this artificial intelligence platform, is able to detect holes in fences, damaged signs or other potential hazards.

Currently, employees manually perform these time-consuming and labour-intensive checks because three-quarters of Pearson’s 4,700 acres is airfield. Holes in fences can lead to issues such as wildlife entering and disrupting air traffic, which is a problem faced by airports around the world.

The Honda AWV would also be capable of handling baggage-related tasks, such as pulling the luggage-carrier trains, but Pearson doesn’t have that in its immediate plans.

The AWV is equipped with a camera, GPS system, radar and LiDAR for real-time obstacle detection. It’s capable of stopping within a couple centimetres of set stop points. If something gets in its way (such as an employee) as was demonstrated by a pylon placed in its path, it will slow down and stop.

We watched as the AWV silently went about its business scanning the fence line for potential damage. It even demonstrated its towing capabilities by pulling a trailer.

Using software created by Eagle Aerospace, the AWV can log the hazards and discrepancies it spots and create a work order, allowing operations to respond in a timely manner. Cisco ensures the connectivity is always reliable and secure.

The AWV is still in the prototype stages, but you might just see one going about its business the next time you’re flying somewhere.

“This is a proof of concept now and would need to go through additional testing and regulatory review for safety and operational efficiency before being fully deployed,” says Todd Browne, associate director of airfield operations at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. “I anticipate this additional review would take until 2025.”

“We are also working on expanded capabilities of the AI and machine learning to include more safety and operational aspects (Foreign object damage, Surface deficiencies, regulatory signs and lines). This would provide the airfield inspection team with a plethora of data to ensure the safe and efficient monitoring and deficiency rectification of the airfield infrastructure,” says Browne.

Honda is currently in the testing phase with the AWV, but is keen on advancing it toward commercialization.

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