American start-up to design self-driving vehicle for jet pushback

Buyung Koto, Wikimedia Commons

The Moonware, a San Francisco-based startup providing software as a ground handling service, set itself a target to develop an innovative electrically powered tow tug that would transform the ground handling process for a variety sizes of aircraft starting from private jets to wide-body commercial planes. The company expected the new innovation to push the now used aircraft moving vehicles out of the market.

Moonware aspired to develop vehicles that could provide innovative aircraft pushback services and that could be used both in business and commercial aviation. The company expected that the new tow tugs would be able to tow different sized aircraft starting from 10.000 pounds (4.535 kilos) weight while larger tugs would be giving a pulling power for up to 600.000 pounds (272.000 kilos) weight. 

According to Moonware presentation, the new tow bars would be electrically-powered and able to move autonomously between pre-determined waypoints including gates, aircraft taxiways, and runways that would be set by air traffic controls. The company announced that air traffic controllers would be able to handle the tow bars through a cloud-based traffic management network that would provide the controller a real-time data about the tow bars’ status and position. 

The system would also provide the controller with information on each vehicle route to tow a particular jet while using multiple light detecting and ranging sensors to avoid collision with other ground support vehicles or other jets. It would also send alerts when the time to recharge the batteries of the vehicle would be necessary.

The tow bars would be equipped with an innovative mechanism that would leverage the weight of each jet’s front nose gear. Moonware expected that this solution would also allow the tow bar to serve a variety of landing gear types and would reduce structural fatigue in comparison to the pin-latch mechanism and clams that are used by current tow tugs.

Moonware claimed that the new autonomous tow tugs would cut ground handling operating costs as well as reduce carbon emission and provide quieter operations. 


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