This is one of those stories where all bets are off. By that, we mean some of you will find this interesting, while others might be slightly freaked out by fully autonomous machinery with massive plows mounted up front. To help alleviate those fears, Mercedes-Benz does say these test trucks are designed solely for airport use. They're called "Automated Airfield Ground Maintenance" vehicles, or AAGMs for short, and though they drive themselves, there is a single human controller directing the operation. So in essence, these are just big, awesome, radio-controlled cars. Well, sort-of anyway.
The base vehicle is a Mercedes-Benz Arocs heavy-duty truck, equipped with all-wheel drive and a plow that's 26 feet wide. Behind the truck is a sweeper that's pulled on a trailer, which touches up the ground and takes care of residual snow left by the plow. All total, the rig is 75 feet long and weighs 27 tons, so it's certainly no lightweight.
Mercedes currently has four of these snow removal monsters in the autonomous fleet. The trucks are outfitted with dual GPS tracking systems, but the core of the electronic brain is something called Remote Truck Interface. This allows a single operator to control vehicle functions and exchange data, which is further enhanced by vehicle-to-vehicles communications so each vehicle knows what the other is doing. The software is such that a particular vehicle can be designated as the leader, and through the V2V communications can direct the convoy's actions.
Mercedes is testing the setup at a former German airbase not far from Frankfurt, with the help of airport management company Fraport AG to sort out the logistics. Though currently consisting of four vehicles, up to 14 autonomous rigs can be employed to tackle inclement weather at airports, which would certainly provide all kinds of clearing capability.
Mercedes says the combination of remote operation with V2V communication and self-drive capability can offer precision clearing of airports quicker, and with considerably less manpower required. Airports like that sort-of thing, so if testing goes well, don't be surprised to see driverless snow plows on your next travel adventure in cold climates.