London Heathrow to introduce AI-controlled runways

The UK-based airport will be trialing a new, £2.5m "digital tower laboratory" aimed at assisting flight controllers to land more planes in low visibility conditions


London Heathrow airport has announced that it will be building a £2.5m ($3.2m) "digital tower laboratory" to help air traffic controllers land more planes. The new lab will be part of the airport's planned £17bn ($22bn) expansion.

The tower lab will utilize 20 ultra-high definition 4K cameras, along with AI technology, to help flight controllers navigate planes to runways during times of low visibility. The most common cause of flight delays and disruptions are low visibility caused by bad weather conditions which end up leaving controllers reliant on less efficient radar systems.

Speaking about the airport's choice to begin incorporating more innovations in technology to counteract the airport's capacity problems, Kathryn Leahy, director of operations at Heathrow Airport said: "We'll be keeping a close eye on this trial, as the technology could have a major role as we prepare for the expanded airport.

"We will watch how AI and digital towers could be used to monitor all three of the expanded airport's runways in future," she added.

The digital tower will be powered by an AI platform called AIMEE which will analyze the feeds from the 20 HD cameras and use machine learning algorithms to assess images and track aircrafts to give the human controllers a better idea of when it's safe to clear planes for landing. The trial, which is being run by NATS, an air traffic management service, will run for the next three months and may lead to a significant switch in how airport logistics are conducted.

"Right now, we're focusing on when the control tower is in low cloud, where I'm confident we can make a very positive difference," said NATS chief solution officer Andy Taylor. "But I am convinced that this technology can totally revolutionise how air traffic is managed at airports around the world."

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