Ricardo has delivered a demonstrator robotic, pilot-controlled towing vehicle known as TaxiBot to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The demonstrator, a six-wheeled vehicle, is capable of towing Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 airliners.

The Taxibot is based on a Krauss Maffei PTS-1 aircraft towbarless tractor that has been redesigned, modified and rebuilt by Ricardo to install IAI’s idea of a turret and energy absorption systems and controls.

On engaging with the TaxiBot, the nose wheel of the aircraft enters the vehicle turret that can rotate freely and hence take steering and braking requests directly from the nose wheel.

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.

The towing vehicle has the potential to reduce fuel costs and emissions, since at present aircraft taxiing to and from the airport terminal gate and runway is a major source of CO2 emissions, fuel consumption.

Ricardo has been involved in the project for IAI for 15 months and in June 2009, IAI and Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding for development of the Taxibot concept.

At present, the prototype assumes an operator in the vehicle, however, the control architecture of the vehicle allows for autonomous tug operation, so in future no tug driver would be needed for taxiing.