• Nov 21st 2009 at 5:07PM
  • 43
Ricardo TaxiBot -- Click above for high-res image gallery

It's certainly good to see some other wheeled vehicles doing their part for the environment, even if it is an airplane -- especially if it's an airplane. Actually this news isn't about the plane itself, but a "pilot-controlled towing vehicle" for an airplane called a "TaxiBot."

Ricardo -- the same folks that make car components -- have engineered the TaxiBot to allow a plane to turn off its main engines when taxiing to the gate and around the concourse. The trick is an automated clamper placed within a standard tug; once the pilot guides the nosewheel into the clamp, the pilot steers, turns, and brakes the tug with the airplane controls. Instead of motive force coming from giant Pratt & Whitneys, the tug's two 500-hp V8s can pull planes up to 747s and A340s.

If adopted widely, the TaxiBot could save airports and airlines millions of dollars in gas and debris damage as well as sparing the world tons of CO2 emissions. You can get the details on the taxibot and its implementation in the press release after the jump.

[Source: Ricardo]


Ricardo engineered vehicle concept aims to reduce aircraft fuel costs, CO2 emissions – and noise

Taxiing to and from the airport terminal gate and runway is a major source of CO2 emissions. Aircraft are currently required to use their main propulsion jet engines in a highly inefficient manner for slow speed ground movements; the consequence is greater local air and noise pollution, as well as wasted fuel and hence increased carbon emissions.Ricardo has successfully engineered and delivered a demonstrator robotic, pilot-controlled towing vehicle known as 'TaxiBot' for Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The TaxiBot concept is capable of operating with both wide and narrow bodied commercial airliners; it requires no modification to the aircraft, taxiways or runways, and only minor changes to airport infrastructure

Ricardo has been working for the past 15 months with IAI to develop the Taxibot concept. After an initial feasibility study, Ricardo developed a detailed programme for IAI to take the concept to the level of a working demonstrator vehicle with full capability. Ricardo's involvement in this work included requirements capture, conceptual design and detailed specification design, manufacture and demonstration of the first TaxiBot demonstrator vehicle.

Following the successful build and initial testing of the first vehicle, IAI has now signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus Industries and a Memorandum of Agreement with international ground support equipment provider TLD, covering the next stages of development of the Taxibot concept. Ricardo was ideally placed to assist with a programme of this nature given the company's extensive vehicle engineering capability and its multi-disciplinary teams of engineers skilled in areas including computer aided design, modelling, electronics, control systems and all aspects of powertrain engineering.

Commenting on the highly successful programme, Ricardo CEO Dave Shemmans said: "The success of the TaxiBot project is an excellent demonstration of Ricardo's strategy of related market sector diversification, taking leading edge automotive technologies and development processes and applying them to the needs of related neighbouring industries. We are extremely pleased to have been able to play such a central role in the development of this innovative concept which could dramatically reduce the CO2 emissions of commercial aviation while improving air quality and reducing noise pollution in the vicinity of the world's major airports."

After further testing and development, Taxibot has the potential to play a highly significant role in the reduction of fuel costs and emissions. According to IAI and Airbus, Taxiing at airports using the aircrafts' main engines results in a huge consumption of fuel (forecasted to cost around $7bn by 2012), a large emission of CO2 (approximately 18m tonnes per year), and a significant source of foreign object debris damage (costing around $350m per year).

Design and build of the first TaxiBot prototype
The first TaxiBot vehicle - a full size, fully operational demonstrator – is based on a Krauss Maffei PTS-1 aircraft towbarless tractor originally owned by Lufthansa LEOS. This donor vehicle has been heavily redesigned, modified and rebuilt by Ricardo to install IAI's patented and innovative ideas of a "turret" and energy absorption systems and controls. The key modifications to the base vehicle by Ricardo were the installation of the "turret" to which the aircraft nose wheel is clamped and that can rotate as the pilot steers the nose wheel; a platform that can tilt and move axially; and chassis extensions to the existing vehicle including an additional axle set, enabling the TaxiBot components to be incorporated. The resulting now six-wheeled vehicle is capable of towing Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 airliners.

The demonstrator vehicle weighs 52 tonnes and is powered by twin, 500hp V8 diesel engines which operate a complex hydrostatic drive system as well as hydraulic systems handling the 4-wheel steering and aircraft pick-up and clamp actuators. Dual Ricardo 'R-Cube' electronic controllers manage the forces applied to the nose landing gear as well as vehicle speed and all the communications with the customer's electronic systems for navigation, speed setting and control tower integration as well as the operational logic of the vehicle systems and the pilot interface.

"TaxiBot has been an interesting programme that has brought together leading edge automotive simulation, electronics, control technologies and special vehicle engineering skills to address one of the key environmental challenges facing the aerospace sector", explains Eric White, Ricardo chief engineer for TaxiBot. "It has set some industry firsts too, including the full dynamic modelling of an aircraft being towed under pilot control (using the ADAMS multibody dynamics and motion analysis software) and the physical demonstration of pilot controlled taxiing using the TaxiBot demonstrator vehicle and test trailer."

How TaxiBot works
On engaging with the TaxiBot, the nose wheel of the aircraft enters the vehicle turret and is quickly clamped securely into position. The turret is able to rotate freely and can hence take steering and braking requests directly from the nose wheel in such a way that the pilot should not notice the presence of the tug whilst being towed normally by TaxiBot. A crucial aspect of the TaxiBot design is that the aircraft brakes slow the aircraft down, not the tug. This, coupled with the management of the nose landing gear forces makes operational towing possible. With the TaxiBot engaged the flight crew can manoeuvre the aircraft around the taxi-ways of the airport, relying solely on auxiliary power units for on-board power and air conditioning needs.

To orchestrate the technology, IAI has developed and provided a "high-level" vehicle controller that will integrate with airport control towers and provide speed target, towing force and other mission data while constantly monitoring geographical position. While the current prototype assumes that an operator is present in the vehicle, the control architecture of the vehicle is already in place to support autonomous tug operation so that in the near future no tug driver would be needed for taxiing.

Initial testing
To test the TaxiBot prototype demonstrator vehicle, Ricardo has designed and built, in parallel with the vehicle programme, a 100 tonne test trailer equipped with a hydrostatic dynamometer capable of simulating large passenger aircraft tyre drag. The test trailer is designed with a genuine Boeing 747 cockpit and nose landing gear in order to fully replicate the processes both of towing and flight deck control of the tug. This highly flexible test trailer has enabled extensive testing of the prototype TaxiBot vehicle to be carried out by Ricardo at the Dunsfold aerodrome close to London, UK.

Next steps
Following signature of the Memorandum of Understanding between IAI and Airbus Industries on future development of TaxiBot at the 2009 Paris Air Show, and subsequent Memorandum of Agreement with TLD, development tests are continuing to be carried out by Ricardo using the demonstrator TaxiBot vehicle and test trailer at Dunsfold. Once this testing is completed it is planned that the demonstrator vehicle will be shipped to Toulouse airport where the TaxiBot will be used in further tests in February 2010 with an Airbus owned A340-600 airplane weighing approximately 350 tonnes. The Ricardo team on the TaxiBot programme will continue to support the development work throughout this next phase based at Toulouse.

"The highly dedicated, focused and considered approach of the combined Ricardo and IAI team involved in this project has delivered a truly unique and clearly viable concept with the potential to deliver substantial fuel savings, as well as reduced noise and CO2 emissions", explained the project director, Richard Gordon. "Having personally steered the tug and test trailer around simulated taxiways from the cockpit, I can envisage rapid acceptance and roll-out of these vehicles globally. It has been gratifying to see the team applying Ricardo engineering approaches and tools and techniques to quickly find solutions to the many technical challenges such a novel programme has thrown up. Ricardo is proud to be the vehicle engineering provider to IAI and we look forward to continuing our strong relationship with IAI and its partners in the next phase of the TaxiBot programme."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm a pilot and the practicality of this is not there. what happens to the taxi bots once the jet taxis to the runway ready for takeoff? it is possible to have GPS equipment put into the tug and using WAAS or LAAS type systems to guide it back to the terminal or parking space and be used again to pull a jet to the runway. in reality this just isn't going to happen anytime soon tho. They don't even have LAAS reliable enough for a Cat III ILS approach so even if they did use GPS technology they'd have to wait before they'd be able to get the accuracy needed to trust the GPS to safely maneuverer this huge, heavy machine back to the airport terminal safely with 100% accuracy so it doesn't smash into an airliner or other vehicle or structure causing massive damage.

      if you want reliability and a proven system i believe this would work. installing rail systems down the centerline of all taxiways and designated taxi areas towards the terminal. the jet would pull up to a starting point, latch on to this rail system using the nosegear, and the rail system would tow the aircraft to the runway with the pilot acting as the controller. the rail system would be powered by electricity and therefore you wouldn't even have the emissions of the taxi bot's 2 500hp V8 engines.

      however, both ideas are extremely expensive and as you can imagine, dealing with airplanes the reliability and safety measures will have to be very high. the reality of either one of these systems coming into play with in the next few years is very very low. the payoff is just not there. i could see the rail system being used but not for at least 10 years.
        • 5 Years Ago
        These would be used for more than just pushback, they would taxi the plane to the taxiway. This portion of the ground travel can be quite substantial at some airports.

        As to the idea of making engines more fuel efficient in the air, that is most definitely being worked on all the time. Engines get more efficient all the time. This would be on top of those savings.
        • 5 Years Ago
        By all appearances, the tug's driver is at the wheel of the tug. However, when hitched to the nose-gear, he is hands-off and the airline pilot takes control.

        The system you propose is less practical. There are at least 600 jet capable airports in the US that will need to be modified, and all jets will also need to be modified (nose-gear). Will require nose gear mods similar to US Navy carrier based jets.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @why not the LS2LS7?

        If you even read the article, it clearly states the whole point of this taxi bot is to tow it to the runway for takeoff. I also mentioned in my posts, so did others, that this is being used to tow the aircraft right to the position before takeoff. I also gave a bunch of stats regarding fuel consumption by a B777 at idle for between 10 and 20 min, average taxi times, to give an idea what a jet burns in fuel during taxi... hinting at what these taxi bot's would save the airline in fuel if they used the taxi bot...

        I seriously don't understand your post. I read them like 20 times last night and thought maybe I was tired and I wasn't getting it, although I'm wide awake now and I still don't understand. It's extremely frustrating as you seem to have completely ignored what was said in my posts (especially since you're replying to my post!), and you seem to have not read the article at all.

        I really don't think you even know what this taxi bot is for. It was NOT designed for pushback.... pushback is the part where the tug hooks up to the nosewheel at the gate and pushes them back a very short distance. They do not push them to a taxiway. They are pushed back a short distance from the terminal to start their engines and are still on the apron. The pilots would not be able to control the taxi bot for pushback because they're going backwards and do not have sufficient viewing area to safely pushback by themselves.

        What you described in your 3rd post is EXACTLY what happens right now... the whole point of taxi bots is to NOT have the aircraft start it's engines AFTER pushback, the purpose of the taxi bots is to tow the aircraft from the pushback position (the position away from the terminal) to the start of the runway, eliminating the need for the jet to start it's engines for taxiing and burn that extra fuel.

        Another reason why I think you don't understand this article is because you say in your 3rd post that the jets are efficient at taxiing. I don't know what you classify as efficient, but if you read in one of my posts I showed that a B777 would burn 857 litres during a 20 min taxi. That is the figure used for engine idle fuel burn. So if they had to wait another 20 min for all the planes in front to take off, they just doubled the burn and now burned over 1700 litres of fuel to taxi. That is just under the amount of fuel the average car burns in 1 year of driving!! And that was just idling for 40 min! I don't know how to say this but that is NOT efficient!!! Hence, why Ricardo thinks that taxi bots are the solution.

        I agree with Ricardo and many others that they should work on eliminating this extra fuel burn, however, reading my posts you would see I don't really agree or think Ricardo's proposal is a realistic one. It would be far easier to just have the tug driver stay inside the tug and tow the jet all the way to the end of the runway than to build automatic taxi bots... that would be a nightmare of control issues for the airport authority.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Your idea is good functionally, but you forgot the cost aspect that would prohibit rails from being installed. I mean...come one, a single truck has got to be cheaper than installing 50' worth of rails.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, and I think the main reason this system would have the pilot steering instead of a driver is basically for liability. Right now the pilots steer the plane across the tarmac, and if they hit each other, it's their own problem. If the airport were to take over taxiing with tug drivers and the tug drivers run the planes into each other, the airport authority would have to pay up.

        Probably the creators think this being more similar to the current situation in terms of responsibilities will give it a better chance of taking off.
        • 5 Years Ago

        your idea seems the easiest, however, all they would need to do is use the current tug machines and just have the operator tow them to the runway and come back. that's the easiest and most cost effective way right now and they still haven't done it, obviously for some reason.

        here is some data on the GE90 engine, which two of them are fitted to most Boeing 777 airliners. they burn 0.291kg/s at idle. if you do some math you will find that they burn 857 litres (226 US gal) in total for two engines during a 20 minute taxi, if it only took 15 min to taxi it would be 643 litres (170 US gal) and 10 min would be 429 litres (113 US gal).

        during a 12 hour flight, not uncommon on a B777, it would burn about 124,242 litres (32,821 US gal) at cruise, not including extra thrust needed for takeoff and the time spent taxiing on the ground. this is just a rough average as many things will affect this burn especially over a long period of 12 hours. its probably +/- 10,000 litres.

        considering that, only burning 429 litres on a short taxi is not really the problem. i think the bigger benefit would be felt if they focused on making the engines more fuel efficient and finding ways of cutting emissions, which manufacturers currently are doing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I don't understand why they need a taxi bot at all. Don't aircraft already get hauled around by a tug driver? Where's the need to give the pilot control instead of just relaying commands to the tug driver?
        • 5 Years Ago

        you bring up a good point. the tug driver tows the aircraft away from the gate and all the ground equipment and usually situates it on an angle so it can safely start it's engines. it's called pushback. it's a very short distance. it would be a lot easier, if they really wanted to accomplish their objective, to keep the driver in the tug and have him tow it out so that he can unhook and bring it back himself safely. the only reason i can see them having it with noone in the tug is for cost, however, making it auto i think would be a far greater cost than having a tug driver, already being paid for the job, tow it out himself. Ricardo's proposal just doesn't make sense.
        • 5 Years Ago
        you bring up some good, albeit unfortunate points. I would think that if they left a driver in the tug to take over after dropping off a plane, it would alleviate some of the need for remote GPS control "stuff." As far as the rail system goes, probably a bit easier to run once all the infrastructure is put in (the Dallas airport would be even more of a mess for 2 years while they tore everything up), but the electricity to run it still comes from somewhere, even if it's not twin-500hp engines.

        I am ignorant as to how much fuel jet's use while taxiing, but it seems like there must be a break-even point where either technology is viable.
      • 5 Years Ago
      LOL @ reduce CO2 emissions.

      WHAT A SCAM!

      Pay your carbon taxes to Al Gore, it's for the Earth!

      Historically speaking, we're at a low level CO2 time period.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well I don't think the reducing CO2 bit is a scam, it's a fact since the planes wouldn't be idling as much, thus... not as much CO2. The bigger commentary on CO2 wasn't mentioned here.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why bother with the 52 tonne tug? Get a few V10 TDi Touregs to tow the planes around.
      • 5 Years Ago
      re italy430

      What a relieve to see proper measurement units like L that one understands not that medieval nonsense. Why do you bother to convert them into yesteryears units?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Why bother to convert it? Because some people like you can't be bothered to learn to understand more than one unit.

        And for the record, pilots use altitudes in feet and speeds in knots (nautical miles per hour), they also usually measure fuel in pounds of fuel (Avoirdupois), but sometimes kgs. Liters (or gallons) aren't as good because the density of fuel changes with temperature and altitude. You really want a certain mass of fuel so you know you have enough instead of a volume.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Why bother to convert it? Because some people like you can't be bothered to learn to understand more than one unit."

        This is an interesting comment coming from somebody in a country that hasn't yet among almost all other nations managed to learn, understand and use modern metric measurements. Why should anyone in the metric world bother to step back in time and convert? This is what you have to do constantly to understand what goes on in the rest of the world.
        As to using feet and knots in aviation, that is nothing to be proud of either. Prior to WW II Europe and other nations used metres and km for height and speed. When America and its inch using allies triumphed they forced that retrogarade step on to an already 80 odd percent metric world. Just shows that power does not equal intelligence.
        Yes, most European airlines and a lot of others take on fuel and measure burn off rate in kg. Ditto aircraft weight.
        Maybe metric China will teach Americans that it does not pay to be the odd one out economically. America's basic proplem is that it can't function properly without metric units. Yet, it is unable to convince its badly educated voters to change their medieval ways. The sooner cumbersome units bite the dust the better.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This idea actually makes sense. I'm not a pilot or airport worker, so I can't comment on its practicality, but it seems like it should be doable, especially compared to the cost of using the jet engines.

      I've always thought it was rather inefficient to blast the engines for a short period to get moving a little while down the runway. Sometimes I thought about maybe putting electric motors in the landing gear wheels, but then figured that would probably add significant maintenance costs (maybe?), plus those relatively small tires are made just to support the plane, not really to drive or stop the plane (since motive force comes from the jet engines which don't require anything from the landing gear other than that the are supporting the plane and aren't adding a lot of rolling friction).

      Should be good to save money. Not sure if we'll ever get back free meals on shorter domestic flights again, but it's nice to dream.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This whole thing is a already out of date. A company called Wheeltug is marketing a system to install mesh wound motors in MLG assemblies that will allow an aircraft to pushback and taxi by itself using APU power. This taxi bot is just dumb and has already been leapfrogged by competing technology.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As its on the Top Gear test track: what's its lap time?
        • 5 Years Ago
        underrated response.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I came here for that comment and i leave happy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        What ever its lap time may be, it would not count since its running on slicks ;)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great idea.. I'm sure once some Airports see the initial cost and tell some of the Airlines if they want this service they have to chip in X-amount to use it, vs. using their own jet fuel to get to a area they'll be jumping on board very quick.
      And I'll admit some ignorance I always thought the engines where just spooling down and not actually running all these years. I've seen planes moving around, kinda assumed the tiny wheels had motors running them. Learned something today whooho go me! go internet haha!
      • 5 Years Ago
      The picture looks fairly reminiscent of the Top Gear test track,
      esp. the hangar in the background

      • 5 Years Ago
      How about skipping the V8s and go straight to some high torque electric motors? Charge em off a nuclear powered electricity grid....

      Never would happen. dumb a$$ greenies cant see the benefits of nuclear power to allow it to happen on a large enough scale to power whole countries.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The greenies don't have that much power.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Not true. They can, and have, poisoned the American public against the idea.

        We would have much more nuclear power right now if it wasn't for one man (Ralph Nadar if you were wondering).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yeah this will work...NOT!
      Plane lands and parks and shuts down engine. And WAITS for the next available taxibot...And the runway area becomes a huge parking lot. DELAYS Folks. Then in the UK the drivers will all go on strike....
      Planes awaitng taxibots to take them to runways will sit WAITING and WAITING.

      A big airport might need 50 or so of these machines with landings every 30 seconds andf takeoffs.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ian, thank for the nonsense. IF the taxibot drivers go on strike....the plane pilots could just turn on their engines and move on their own.

        Think for a second, got God's sake.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The comment about UK strikers was a joke! Think for God's sake:) The other comment was my real issue and you passed over that w/o comment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Smart Idea, just hope some idiot pilot doesn't try to take off with one of these still attached to his nose-gear.

      Anyone taking bets on how long before these are made everywhere but in America?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Im sure the FAA and others would require it to have some system to prevent that from happening, thats if it doesn't already have it. Some thing like this would take many years of testing before the airline industry would adopt it.
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