Pair of ‘unmanned’ Valtras on test at active airport

Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers are already here, but can the same technology be applied to a 7t machine that clears snow from an airstrip?

To answer this rather odd question, Valtra and Nokian Tyres partnered up with three other Finnish companies in March for a joint ‘proof-of-concept’ project at the EU’s northern-most airport.

Two Valtra T254 Versu tractors, equipped with Nokian Hakkapeliitta TRI tyres and each pulling a 4.5m-wide sweeper/blower, autonomously cleared the runway at Ivalo airport in Finnish Lapland.

Winters in Finland can be long; some parts of the country are covered in snow for up to 200 days per year.

“As an airport operator we need to create summer conditions on Finnish runways, even if it’s the middle of the winter. To meet this challenge we are constantly searching for new solutions that support our world-class snow-how,” explained Henri Hansson, technical director of Finavia – the organisation responsible for maintaining the majority of Finnish airports.

This is how the idea for project ‘Runway Snowbot’ came into being. The project involves Valtra, Nokian Tyres, airport sweeper/blower manufacturer Vammas (Fortbrand) and others.

“Runway Snowbot is a proof of concept, showing that by combining the know-how of Finnish companies, airport runways can be cleared in a new way – more safely, more sustainably, more economically and more comfortably,” said Matti Tiitinen, senior brand business manager – Valtra Scandinavia, Baltics & Western and Central Europe.

It’s worth noting that Valtra has been working on auto-guided tractors for several years. Together with Nokian Tyres, it set the speed record for unmanned snow-ploughing in 2018 with an autonomous T254 Versu.

Also Read: Video: ‘Unmanned’ Valtra sets new speed record in frosty Finland

For project ‘Runway Snowbot’ Valtra technology, such as auto-guidance with “centimetre-level precision”, enabled the “controlled clearing of pre-defined routes”.

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

“Tractors are considerably less expensive in total cost of ownership than trucks and much more versatile, as they can be used for other tasks such as snow-blowing or mowing,” he added.