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Autonomous Vehicles Making Their Debut At CVG

Ann Thompson
ThorDrive's Eddie Shelton shows off its autonomous vehicle that the company is testing at CVG.

It may not be too much longer before airports around the world use self-driving vehicles to take you to your terminal, transport your luggage and clear the runway. Tests are underway now for the luggage part at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport with an autonomous tractor.

ThorDrive's Chris Lee points to cameras and sensors on the front of a base tractor pulling a couple of luggage carriers. This autonomous vehicle is designed to be able to avoid planes, workers and anything else that might be in its way on the tarmac. It knows when to stop.

With a remote control in hand Lee says, "This is going to be the eyes for the human driver in the system and we have a computer behind in the cabin."

He demonstrates it:


ThorDrive has been testing this diesel vehicle for about a year and will put an electric one through the motions soon.

Native Cincinnatian Eddie Shelton recently joined ThorDrive as vice president of business development. Just a month ago, the company released the proof of concept.

"We intend to have salable units by the end of the year. For the near future we intend to obviously extend that into a leadership position and autonomous vehicles in aviation and then also proliferate our technologies to other ground support equipment," he says.

The story of how ThorDrive ended up moving to Cincinnati (after a stop in Silicon Valley) from Seoul, Korea, is an interesting one.


CVG has talked with airlines and ground handlers and everyone seems to be interested in the technology, according to the airport's Senior Manager of Strategic Innovation Naashom Marx.

"Most recently we did do an ordinance around autonomous things," she says. "So, we want to make sure people on our campus, and people looking to come onto our campus know that we are open to the idea. We will want to make sure there are standards, and safety is number one." 

The ThorDrive self-driving vehicles cost about $150,000. They are manufactured by Wollard International.

Other Airports Looking At Autonomous Vehicles

Airports in New York City are requesting proposals from private companies as they look to a future with self-driving vehicles. They are focused on autonomous shuttle buses, according to Politico.

In Sweden there are a variety of self-driving vehicle tests underwayat one airport, focusing on maintenance like snowplows.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.