Delta partners with Georgia Tech and 5G-enabled lab on autonomous vehicle research

Key Points
  • Researchers will get access to a 1.5 mile test track. 
  • Delta say autonomous vehicles could undertake tasks such as helping passengers make tight connections at airports.
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Delta Air Lines is to partner with Georgia Tech and the Curiosity Lab on research into autonomous vehicles.

The project will see researchers from the organizations get access to the Curiosity Lab's 1.5-mile autonomous vehicle test track. The Curiosity Lab is a 5G-enabled autonomous vehicle and smart city living lab based in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. A network operations center at the lab enables researchers to track and analyse data.

"Autonomous vehicle technology is one of those innovations we see as having the potential to improve employee safety, the customer experience and operational performance, and this partnership will help us explore all of those possibilities," Gil West, Delta's chief operating officer, said in a statement.

In terms of how autonomous technology could be applied in an airport environment, Delta said that vehicles could undertake tasks such as helping passengers to make tight connections.

New types of autonomous tech are already being introduced to airports around the world. In November 2018, for example, South Korean telecoms firm KT Corp announced the successful testing of a self-driving bus at Incheon International Airport.

The bus undertook a 2.2 kilometer trip outside Terminal 1 of the airport. It was able to change lanes to avoid obstacles and slow down at traffic signals.

Speaking on the broader market of autonomous vehicles at transport hubs, Chris Jones, co-founder and chief analyst at Canalys, told CNBC via email that they would "definitely" have a role to play, moving people, luggage and catering supplies around locations.

"At Canalys, we would expect every large airport and transport hub to mix autonomous vehicles into the fleet of vehicles already used," he added, explaining that low-speed autonomous shuttles were already being trialed at transport hubs, campuses, resorts and large events.

Jones went on to say that autonomous vehicles could bring efficiency, be "heavily utilized throughout the day and night, and should be easily configurable dependent on what they need to carry."