Panasonic to introduce self-driving wheelchair at airports
Flying is viewed by many as one of the most convenient ways to travel but for those with limited mobility, that’s not often the case. Traversing a large airport or simply getting from one gate to another between layovers in a timely fashion, for example, can be taxing at best and downright impossible for others.
Airlines accommodate passengers to the best of their ability but current solutions are far from ideal.
In the event a passenger is traveling without their own mobility equipment, what typically happens is the airline will provide a manual wheelchair and a staffer to push them through the airport. This can be both a burden to the airline staff and another point where lax customer service can come into play.
Now air travelers with disabilities will have a much easier time navigating one of Japan’s main airports, thanks to new smart wheel chairs.
Haneda Airport outside Tokyo is beginning tests of the WHILL NEXT, an app-controlled self-driving wheel chair that can take users around the airport and even bring their luggage in a separate wireless vehicle behind them.
It is hoped the system will be in place, alongside new smart billboards and navigation apps, in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Designed specifically for navigating crowded areas, the smart wheel chair also has several other features that make it perfect for airports, such as the ability to link to sensor-equipped luggage carts that automatically follow the wheelchair without getting lost.
The WHILL NEXT uses sensors and image recognition to detect obstacles and navigate the airport.
‘Using autonomous mobility technology developed for the autonomous delivery robot HOSPI, the wheelchair can identify its own position, select routes and automatically move to destinations input via smartphones,’ says Panasonic.
Visitors to the airport will use a special app to call a smart wheelchair. They will then be able to input their destination, travelling to stores, gates or an exit.
The WHILL NEXT uses sensors and image recognition to navigate the airport. If the wheel chair senses a potential collision, it will stop automatically. The wheelchairs can also connect to each other so groups can travel in tandem. It can also link to sensor-equipped luggage carts that automatically follow the wheelchair without getting lost.
Afterward, the wheel chairs even stick together on their way to the return location to reduce the workload for airport staff.They have a range of 15 miles and a speed of 5.5 mph.