You might not notice when you touch down or take off, but the Edmonton International Airport is quickly becoming more than a transportation hub — it’s an innovation hub as well. Inside the terminal, the digital revolution is well underway, with automated passport control and primary inspection kiosks already available, allowing passengers to get through customs quicker than before. Outside, there’s another, more advanced piece of technology that signals the EIA’s first step — or, more accurately, first wheel — into autonomous, artificial intelligence. But you probably won’t notice it — unless you’re trespassing.
The EIA’s autonomous all-terrain security vehicle is the product of the neighbouring advanced technology development centre, the Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products (ACAMP), after they met to discuss a better way to inspect the airport’s perimeter road. The vehicle traverses the airport’s outskirts 24 hours a day and relays what it sees to security, where staff can watch live or wait for notifications. But it’s more than a camera on self-steering wheels.
Along with configuring a computer to talk to the transmission (that’s the AI part), steering, brakes and gas, the high-end GPS gives positioning down to the decimetre (standard GPS on a car is in the range of 5-10 metres). The LiDAR detection system sends object renderings (imagine a three-dimensional blueprint) of anything in its way. Image-processing algorithms recognize fence holes as small 15 centimetres and can already successfully identify seven animal species (including human) over 90 per cent of the time — from up to 100 metres away, while on the move (it travels 15 km/h in autonomous mode). And the communication system allows security staff to hear what’s happening and speak to intruders.
It’s the airport’s most successful foray into the coming autonomous future, built with technology made or developed entirely within the ACAMP facility — most of which will be marketed and sold to other businesses — with the end goal being autonomous shuttles driving passengers in and out of the airport itself. It’s part of the EIA promoting itself as a living lab. As Director Business Strategy at ACAMP, Siamak Akhlaghi explains, the EIA is “the perfect size to do that. It’s not so big like Heathrow, not so small that it won’t be able to do anything. They’re the perfect size for all these niche applications, and for promoting itself as the centre of excellence in Alberta.”