Following successful testing of the TaxiBot system on commercial airliners, it has been revealed that Ricardo has been awarded a contract to support Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) through the next stages of development of the semi-autonomous taxiing vehicle that aims to reduce aviation fuel costs, environmental footprint and ground noise.
Ricardo's involvement in the development of IAI's TaxiBot concept dates from the very start of the engineering programme for the first demonstration vehicle in 2008. 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 representative capability in order to prove the concept. Ricardo's involvement in this work included initial requirements capture, conceptual design and modelling, followed by detailed specification design. Ricardo engineers subsequently went on to support manufacture and demonstration of the first TaxiBot demonstrator vehicle. Testing of this first vehicle was carried out during 2010, towing an Airbus owned A340 aircraft at Toulouse airport and subsequently, a Boeing 747 of the Lufthansa fleet at Frankfurt. In each case the system was manoeuvred by fully qualified test and commercial pilots and proved extremely successful. Despite severe weather conditions during the Frankfurt tests in particular, for example, the TaxiBot demonstrator system showed excellent capabilities and successfully maintained its defined envelope. According to IAI reports of this testing a Lufthansa test pilot commented that: "The overall impression is very good, and better than I expected. ...A big advantage of using the TaxiBot is on icy or slippery surfaces where traction is now better and safety is increased when turning."
Following these extremely positive results IAI has now embarked on a further phase of development - supported by Ricardo - which aims to take the concept through to first commercial implementation during 2012. As part of its responsibilities under the contract announced today, Ricardo will assist IAI in the pre-production systems engineering effort to develop the TaxiBot to be compatible with narrow-bodied aircraft as well as taking the system forward to gain certification from the appropriate authorities to enable it to enter commercial production. Specific tasks that Ricardo will focus upon include dynamic vehicle systems simulation, advanced control systems development including an autonomous steering function, design and development of a key hydro-mechanical system, and assistance with vehicle integration and testing.
Commenting on the award of this contract, Ricardo project director for the TaxiBot programme, Richard Gordon, said: "Ricardo is extremely pleased to have been selected by IAI to continue as their engineering partner on this ground breaking programme following on from our work on the highly successful demonstrator phase. TaxiBot has the potential to play a very important role in reducing the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of commercial airliners while also reducing noise in the vicinity of major airports. We look forward to working with IAI to assist them in taking TaxiBot through the final stages of development and ultimately, to certification and commercial introduction."
IAI director of Innovation and Strategy Ran Braier added: "We are pleased to have placed this contract with Ricardo and to have their support in the next phase of TaxiBot development. The TaxiBot project represents a truly innovative combination of aerospace and vehicle engineering skills that offers huge potential for the airline industry worldwide in the reduction of fuel consumption and ground noise. We are sure that we have made the right choice when selecting Ricardo for this job; the Ricardo team has proved it has an extremely high engineering capability which without any doubt is at the cutting edge of technology in the automotive industry. "
As part of the continued TaxiBot development programme, further demonstrator vehicle tests on Airbus and Boeing aircraft are scheduled for the second quarter of 2011 in order to assist prototype development and bring the system design to maturity prior to serial production. IAI currently plans to secure certification for the first airplane during 2012 and deliveries of the first units to customers should begin before the end of the same year.
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