ThorDrive tests autonomous ground support equipment at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport

January 26, 2021

ThorDrive, a startup specializing in the development of autonomous driving solutions, announced the launch of a pilot operation for its self-developed, fully driverless autonomous driving ground support equipment at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (referred to as Cincinnati International Airport) in the United States in December.

At the same time, ThorDrive plans to partner with Cincinnati International Airport to verify its autonomous driving technology for use in the airport and expedite the global market for autonomous vehicles specifically designed for airports through rapid commercialization.

The fully driverless autonomous special vehicle, which ThorDrive has begun piloting at Cincinnati International Airport in the United States, is one of the various ground service equipment operated on airport runways and airplane stands. It serves as ground support equipment for transporting baggage between the baggage sorting station and aircraft.

The fully unmanned autonomous ground service equipment, currently under pilot operation, is equipped with THOR AI Driver. This is a fully autonomous driving solution developed by ThorDrive, which includes LiDAR and camera sensors. The equipment is capable of recognizing airplanes and various special vehicles, as well as predicting routes. It is possible for autonomous systems to operate on runways and airplanes, as well as indoors in environments such as luggage compartments, without requiring any modifications to the surroundings.

ThorDrive has been conducting autonomous driving tests and data acquisition at airports in Ohio, U.S. since 2019 for the research and development of fully unmanned autonomous ground service equipment. The company has successfully obtained autonomous driving data in both indoor and outdoor airport environments. The airport autonomous driving data obtained by ThorDrive is collected in a controlled environment without any publicly available datasets. Unlike urban autonomous driving data, which is easily accessible to anyone and has a wide range of public datasets, airport data can only be obtained by selected few companies. As a result, the quality and competitiveness of this data are exceptionally high.

Cincinnati International Airport is the sixth-largest cargo airport in the U.S., according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It serves as the air cargo hub for Amazon, the largest e-commerce company in the U.S. The construction of the air cargo hub is set to be completed this year, which is expected to drive the development and expansion of fully unmanned autonomous baggage transport ground vehicle technology.

Kye Dong-kyoung, CEO of ThorDrive, mentioned, "The airport environment is very challenging for other players to access, and we believe that this autonomous driving pilot will further widen the technology gap between us and our competitors. This presents ThorDrive with a great opportunity to capture the market for airport special-purpose autonomous driving." He also said, "Airports are a promising market for the global commercialization of autonomous products in the near future. This is due to the consistent traffic conditions and rules that exist worldwide, as well as the limited regulations pertaining to autonomous driving."

ThorDrive plans to further expand its autonomous driving ground support business by installing its autonomous driving technology in various types of ground service equipment, including passenger transportation, runway cleaning, and baggage transportation. The pilot operation for baggage transportation has already begun. The company also aims to continue building its autonomous ground handling equipment business by expanding the number of airports it operates globally.

In addition to the autonomous driving business at airports, Korea and the United States are also undertaking various projects related to autonomous shuttle buses, taxis, and logistics delivery in urban areas this year. This indicates that ThorDrive is expected to make significant progress in innovating future mobility through the autonomous driving of different types of vehicles.

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