Valtra and Nokian Tyres recently partnered with Finnish companies Vammas (Fortbrand), Neste and Finavia to develop an autonomous snow removal robot for an airport.
Two Valtra T254 Versus equipped with Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tires each pulled a 4.5m-wide sweeper blower autonomously, successfully clearing the runway at Ivalo airport.
Winters in Finland can be very long, with many parts of the country covered permanently in snow for up to 200 days a year.
“As an airport operator we need summer conditions on the runways even in the middle of winter. To meet this challenge we are constantly searching for new solutions that support our world-class snow-how,” said Henri Hansson, technical director of Finavia, the organization responsible for maintaining the majority of Finland’s airports.
This is how the idea for the Runway Snowbot was born by the group of Finnish experts, each specialists in their own field, and each with a deep understanding of Nordic conditions.
“Runway Snowbot is a proof of concept, showing that by combining the know-how of five Finnish companies, airport runways can be cleared in a new way – more safely, more sustainably, more economically and more comfortably,” commented Matti Tiitinen, senior brand business manager, Valtra Scandinavia, Baltics and Western and Central Europe.
Tractor specialist Valtra has been working on auto-guided tractors for several years. For Runway Snowbot, Valtra’s SmartTouch features, including auto-guidance and Isobus implement control, were used, enabling the robot to clear the runway to pre-defined routes.
The Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tires provided the robot with the grip and accuracy needed for safe driverless tractor operation – while also being gentle to the tarmac.
Both the Valtra and the Vammas sweeper blower were fueled with Neste MY renewable diesel, which is said to burn approximately 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil diesel.
“Without the driver carrying out instinctive corrections for steering and throttle, the tires must offer very predictable handling,” explained Toni Silfverberg, head of sales and marketing, Nokian Heavy Tyres.
“What’s more, operation without studs, the low rolling resistance of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI and our sustainable manufacturing process add to the overall economy and sustainability.”
The tests carried out during the 2018-2019 winter were billed successful by all partners, though it is unclear yet when the technology could become commercially available.
“Tractors are an interesting alternative for airports where working widths of 4.5m are sufficient. Tractors are considerably less expensive than trucks in terms of their total cost of ownership, and much more versatile as they can be used for other tasks such as snow-blowing or mowing during the summertime,” added Tero Santamanner, a Finavia machine equipment specialist.