Inside Eindhoven’s testbed for autonomous baggage solutions

At Eindhoven Airport, tech provider Vanderlande has begun testing advanced baggage handling solutions, from image recognition technology to autonomous vehicles. Frances Marcellin spoke to Vanderlande and Eindhoven Airport to find out why the airport makes such a good testbed and highlight some of the innovations being trialled.

Eindhoven is positioned in the heart of the Brainport region of the Netherlands, which is renowned for its leading design, technology and manufacturing industries. It was awarded “Intelligent community of the year” in 2011 and offers a dynamic start-up ecosystem that supports new businesses and technology. It is therefore fitting that Eindhoven Airport and automation company Vanderlande have teamed up with BagsID, creators of an AI-based baggage handing solution for airports, to test cutting-edge smart baggage solutions.

According to SITA, 25.4 million bags are mishandled each year, but in 2007 that number was double with automation one of the reasons for the improvement. While the associated cost has dropped over the years, the annual bill is still $2.5bn.

According to BagsID, the company’s system works in a similar way that the app Shazam does for music recognition. Photographs of suitcases taken in the baggage system are compared with photographs of those already in the network using AI, with the bags’ characteristics ‑ such as colour, material, dents and stickers - used as ways to identify each one.

“The aviation industry is facing numerous challenges and, through innovation, we are looking for ways to turn these into opportunities,” explains Eindhoven Airport COO Mirjam van den Bogaard.

“We have worked closely with Vanderlande for many years, who, like us, want to lead the way in the application of new techniques to improve the airport process. Our future strategy is based on the conviction that innovations in aviation can be put into practice sooner if different disciplines cooperate seamlessly.”

Through this collaboration, Eindhoven Airport is meeting its vision of being an inspiring testing ground for the region for the aviation industry. AIR spoke to Mark Lakerveld, market director for airports at Vanderlande, and Ivar van der Smaal, innovation manager at Eindhoven Airport, to learn more about how they are working together.

The autonomous vehicles were tested live at Rotterdam The Hague Airport at an early stage. Image: Vanderlande

Frances Marcellin: Why is Eindhoven Airport such a good testbed for Vanderlande?

Vanderlande’s Mark Lakerveld: Eindhoven Airport lives up to its name as a smart airport that wants to continuously improve airport processes through innovation. To achieve its goals, it brings the innovative forces from the Brainport region together and uses the airport as a testing ground. For Vanderlande, Eindhoven Airport is perfectly located - close to home - to test the latest technologies in a live environment.

Mark Lakerveld, Executive Director Global Markets at Vanderlande

Eindhoven Airport’s Ivar van der Smaal: Of course, innovations are also being tested at other airports in the Netherlands. Eindhoven Airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Lelystad Airport and Schiphol Airport are all part of Royal Schiphol Group.

In order to develop the most sustainable and high-quality (hub) airports in the world, we are fully committed to innovation. To this end, the airports work closely with each other and with external partners such as airlines and universities, as well as with business partners and start-ups like Vanderlande and BagsID, to validate new developments for the multimodal hubs of the future. Using regional airports as our innovation testing ground enables us to exchange gained knowledge and scale up.

Ivar van der Smaal as Innovation Manager Operations at Eindhoven Airport

How will Vanderlande and Eindhoven Airport collaborate and work with technology, design and knowledge institutes?

ML: Vanderlande's strategy is to use automated solutions to improve the end-to-end baggage and passenger process. We are aware that new technologies will play a major role in this. Vanderlande ideally likes to innovate together with its customers to ensure that our solutions are closely aligned with market needs. The initiative to join forces was born from the already close cooperation between Vanderlande and Eindhoven Airport, and both parties’ ambition to optimise baggage and passenger processes even further.

Depending on the nature of the test, Vanderlande and Eindhoven Airport collaborate with various technology and design companies, and with knowledge institutes. For example, we have joined forces with BagsID for the trial phase of a new baggage identification technology.

IS: Eindhoven Airport has a broad regional network and we obviously speak to each other regularly about ambitions, challenges and developments. We look at where we can strengthen each other and how we can work together to make the region even better. We have been working together with Vanderlande for many years and this consortium arose out of the shared ambition to optimise the airport process even further.

Eindhoven Airport and automation company Vanderlande have teamed up with BagsID to test smart baggage solutions. Image: Eindhoven Airport

What live tests will Vanderlande be running?

ML: Already at an early stage, we carried out successful live tests at Rotterdam The Hague Airport. The lessons we learned here substantially contributed to the further development of this solution, and thus also to implementing the solution at Lelystad Airport and at other locations around the world. Rotterdam The Hague Airport will again be the testing ground, as will Eindhoven Airport, for the autonomous vehicles on the apron, which are used to transfer suitcases to and from the aircraft.

What trials have been carried out with autonomous baggage vehicles?

ML: In August, Vanderlande carried out trials with the autonomous baggage vehicles at Rotterdam The Hague Airport. 5D drawings were made of the trial. Programmers are now writing the software of the vehicles. Before the end of this year, testing will commence on various types of autonomous vehicles at Rotterdam The Hague Airport and Eindhoven Airport.

What benefits do autonomous vehicles bring to the baggage handling process on the apron?

ML: Having the autonomous vehicles on the apron, the process quality becomes more predictable and robust, leading to even greater certainty that every suitcase will always arrive at its correct destination. It will also help improve the information provided to the handling staff, as well as to the passengers, about where suitcases are located at any moment. This further automation will also increase the safety level on the platform, both in terms of the risk of accidents and in terms of keeping the required distance between people.

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