RAF trials SELF-DRIVING cargo cars to ‘free soldiers from mundane tasks’

THE Royal Air Force has been trialling the use of self-driving cars as it explores ways to free up personnel from mundane tasks on military bases.

Staff at RAF Brize Norton, Oxon, have been working with the Academy of Robotics on the trial which sees the ground-breaking Kar-go Delivery Bot delivering tools, equipment and supplies around the base.


Kar-go, a zero-emissions, self-driving delivery vehicle capable of 60 mph, performs autonomous and semi-autonomous procedures with a safety team monitoring from a unique mobile command hub known as Athena. 

When arriving at its destination on the base, recipients meet Kar-go and a hatch is automatically released enabling them to collect the package. 

The ‘Athena’ command hub is a secure mobile unit within a modified luxury coach, which can oversee all aspects of the vehicles' operations. 

From this facility, the team can take control of the vehicle remotely if necessary, from a specially-designed command chair, complete with pedals and a steering wheel to reflect a normal driving experience.

Part-funded by the RAF’s Astra programme, with the British technology start-up, Academy of Robotics matching the investment, the trial is the first stage in understanding and investigating the potential to use autonomous delivery vehicles to support the work of RAF personnel. 

For security reasons, only trained and authorised personnel can normally move goods around an airbase, but the use of secure, autonomous vehicles can free up their time to focus on the core roles they were trained for. 

Squadron Leader Tony Seston, RAF Engineer and Astra ambassador said: “Bringing self-driving technology onto a base offers many advantages. 

“Ultimately, we could see fleets of autonomous vehicles with different autonomy levels delivering supplies, spares, tools, food and also providing airfield services such as aircraft fuelling, runway sweeping and snow and ice clearance. 

“Our recruits receive world-class training. If new technology can help to ensure we are enabling them to use that training as effectively as possible, we need to look at how we can integrate it into our current processes.  

“However, we must ensure we introduce this in a way that is secure and safe for our personnel. We see this trial as our first steps into understanding how we can deliver this vision safely.”

Bases like RAF Brize Norton support operations all over the world, with teams ready 24/7 to support humanitarian efforts worldwide and provide military assistance to the Civil Authorities in the UK.  

Kar-go, which is electric, reduces harmful emissions and can help the RAF towards its mission to net zero by 2040. 

Group Captain Emily Flynn, Station Commander at RAF Brize Norton, said: “Last month, we saw a fantastic response from our teams, putting extra hours in and giving up leave to help the Afghan rescue missions. 

“That’s the sort of work our aviators want to be able to focus on and in situations like this, every minute we save can save a life. 

“This trial is part of a continued programme to take away the mundane tasks that cause added stress and inconvenience for our people, to help our highly-trained personnel to do the jobs they joined the RAF to do and to do them to the best of their ability.”

Kar-go is one part of a complete autonomous technology system developed by leading British technology company, Academy of Robotics.

The RAF is now reviewing the findings from the trial to look at how it can be scaled effectively as part of their continued commitment to bringing innovation into the RAF.

William Sachiti, CEO of Academy of Robotics, said: “Moving goods securely around a site is a major challenge for almost all large organisations.

“Although we have optimised everything we do to be able to do trials like this where the technology can complement the core work taking place on large industrial sites, every site has its own nuances and challenges. 

“The fact we have designed the whole system has been a huge benefit here giving us complete control and making it much easier to adapt it to the specific integration challenges of the environment we are operating in. 

“This trial represents the culmination of months of close collaboration and planning with the RAF, and it has been a great privilege to work with teams who show such dedication and commitment to helping others. 

“We hope that with this trial, we have taken a major step to helping them to do even more for those in need around the world.”

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