Partnership develops autonomous tow tractors


Bradshaw Electric Vehicles has partnered with Fusion Processing forging a new partnership to develop fully autonomous tow tractors, vehicles that are used extensively in factories, warehouses and airport logistics to haul baggage trailers and goods trucks.

Autonomising electric tow tractors improves safety and can drive huge operational efficiencies by refining the logistics of complex environments where the smooth running and timely delivery of goods and baggage are critical such as flight schedules and haulage, where efficiency savings are counted in seconds.

Implementing an effective autonomous drive system requires expertise across many disciplines. The partnership between Fusion Processing and Bradshaw brings together specialists in electric vehicle manufacturing and experts in automotive sensing and control systems utilising artificial intelligence to provide safe and efficient situational awareness, path planning, decision making and vehicle control.

Fusion Processing’s CAVstar control and sensing system will be used to make Bradshaw’s third-generation T700 and T800 Tow Tractors fully autonomous. The T700 and T800 are popular models for line feed and warehouse applications thanks to the tow tractors 48-volt high-capacity batteries and extended run-time. AC technology drive provides impressive performance and allows for high levels of configuration, speed control and optimum braking performance. Delivering consistent performance for daily operations, the T700 and T800 are obvious models to make fully autonomous.

Fusion Processing has successfully developed intelligent sensing and control systems for autonomous road-going vehicles, including full-sized single-decker buses. Being part of the UK’s largest public trial of autonomous vehicles made Fusion Processing the ideal partner.

The state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system uses a range of sensors, including LIDAR, optical cameras and ultrasonics, to build up a picture of the environment around the vehicle and plot the most efficient safe route through it. This means the autonomous tow tractors can be operated safely inside factories where GPS signals are unavailable without the need to install extensive infrastructure. The compact CAVstar system can be retrofitted to any vehicle, where it controls the throttle, braking and steering systems to provide fully autonomous operation. The CAVstar system will be configured for the electric vehicle and tuned to deliver more efficient throttle and braking control than is possible by a human driver, especially when pulling an eight-tonne load.

Fusion Processing’s CEO, Jim Hutchinson, said: “We firmly believe that autonomous vehicles can transform the logistics of large warehouses and airports where tow tractors are used extensively to haul trailers and baggage carts. We can apply our artificial intelligence and engineering expertise developed on numerous autonomous vehicle projects, including the world’s first full-sized autonomous bus, to transform the warehouse logistics industry”.

Bradshaw Electric Vehicle’s joint Managing Director, Drew Bradshaw, said: “Our third-generation T700 and T800 Tow Tractor is the ideal model to autonomise as production lines often run a 24-hour operation and the 48-volt system and rollout battery lends itself to extended run-time applications negating the need for shift changes and downtime. It will typically be hauling loads of up to 8-tonnes around complex environments where precision logistics are key to smooth operations. We are also particularly keen to realise the energy savings that Fusion’s autonomous CAVstar system can deliver”.


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