Japan’s ANA Continues Trialing Automatic Baggage Loaders

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Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA), the county’s largest airline, is continuing to work with Toyota Industries to conduct additional tests involving an autonomous towing tractor and a robotic baggage loader. The Tokyo-headquartered airline said that it was working together with Toyota to develop the technology further and roll it out at airports as soon as possible.

ANA All Nippon Airways Japan Getty Images
Japanese flag carrier ANA trials a driver-less tractor. Photo: Getty Images

This latest series of tests are now scheduled between December 14 and 18 at Kyushu Saga International Airport (HSG). The purpose of these latest tests is to demonstrate just how far autonomous technology has evolved in recent years. ANA chose Kyushu Saga International Airport because ANA regards it as one of the world’s smartest and best-connected airports and is where ANA has been testing autonomous products and robots since 2019.

ANA autonomous tractor and robot baggage loader
The trials are taking place at Kyushu Saga International Airport (HSG). Photo: ANA

“ANA prides itself on our history of innovation and embrace of the latest technologies in order to maximize passengers’ comfort and convenience, while improving the overall travel experience,” said Masaki Yokai, Senior Vice President of ANA.

“Toyota Industries also has a legacy of innovation, and we are proud to partner with an organization that is also dedicated to continually advance consumer needs. Innovation has always been a key component of our approach to offering unrivaled service, and the upcoming tests at Saga Airport bring the next generation of smart technology one step closer to reality.”

The tractor can travel at nearly 10 mph

The Toyota-developed autonomous tractor can travel at speeds of up to 15 kilometers per hour (9.3 mph) without any human oversight. The tractor will be programmed to drive a preset course to prove its efficiency and safety while at the same time providing a glimpse into future airports ground operations.

The tractor will also be tasked with being able to operate in conjunction with a baggage loading robot. ANA hopes that these latest autonomous vehicles and robotic trials will make it easier for this new technology to be embraced by other airports in Japan and worldwide.

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The robot can lift luggage weighing 77lbs

Along with the autonomous tractor, ANA will also be testing a baggage loading robot designed to be used with aircraft and capable of loading one piece of luggage every 25 seconds. The robotic arm can effortlessly lift up to 35 kilograms (77lbs) and accurately stack them according to size for the most efficient storage aboard aircraft.

The first of its kind baggage loader will help streamline container baggage loading, which is considered one of the most time-consuming actions for baggage handling.

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Technology is replacing workers

The program being conducted by ANA and Toyota is part of a plan backed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism in response to changes in the domestic work environment. While not saying how it will take away jobs from humans in the short term, they say it is in response to Japan’s declining population that could result in labor shortages.

ANA aircraft at Tokyo Airport
The robotic arm can load and stack a piece of luggage every 25 seconds. Photo: Getty Images

Automation and robotics will change aviation and every aspect of life as we know it. At the airport, they are proving to have the potential to make operations more efficient and safer for everyone involved.

What do you think about ANA’s latest autonomous tractor and robotic trials? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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