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Wednesday, 05 June 2019 18:09

There’s no job like a snow job

Written by  Mark Daniel
The runway snowbots in action. The runway snowbots in action.

Can a robot be used to clear snow from an airstrip? Yes, it can, as demonstrated by tractor specialist Valtra with Nokian Tyres and three other Finnish companies.

They set out to prove the concept in March 2019 at the European Union’s northernmost airport.

Winters are long in Finland with many regions covered in snow for 150 to 200 days a year. But airport operators need ‘summer’ conditions on runways even in mid winter, so they’re always for new ways to achieve this. 

Hence the project ‘Runway Snowbot’, conceived by Finnish experts, each a specialist in their field with a deep understanding of the Nordic climate. 

The result was two driverless Valtra T254 Versu tractors running on Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tyres and each pulling a 4.5m wide sweeper blower to clear the runway at Ivalo airport in Finnish Lapland. 

Valtra has worked for years on auto-guided tractors. With Nokian Tyres it set the speed record in 2018 for unmanned snowploughing with an autonomous T254 Versu tractor running on Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tyres.

The ‘Runway Snowbot’ project used Valtra SmartTouch with auto guidance to centimetre precision. Isobus implement control provided the technology needed for controlled clearing of pre-defined routes. 

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tyre is the world’s first tractor winter tyre, providing the grip and accuracy needed for safe driverless tractor operation while gently treating the runway surfaces.

The winter 2018–2019 tests were successful and though the concept is not quite ready to go commercial it has paved the way.

“Tractors are an interesting alternative for airport fleets where working widths of 4.5m are sufficient,” said Tero Santamanner, a machine specialist at Finavia. 

“Tractors are much less expensive in total cost of ownership than trucks and much more versatile. They can be used for other tasks such as snow blowing or mowing during summer.”

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