Funky self-driving wheelchairs that can navigate busy airports and avoid obstacles are under test at Tokyo’s Narita airport to help passengers with mobility issues get between flights.
The project between All Nippon Airways and Panasonic Corp. is using the semi-robotic electric wheelchairs to increase mobility and accessibility options that give passengers more independence when navigating the bustling airport.
The self-driving wheelchair developed by Panasonic and WHILL is capable of independently detecting and avoiding people and obstacles and follows a pre-determined leader to a common destination.
“Narita airport is a gateway to Japan for millions of travelers every year and we seek to partner with other leading Japanese innovators to make sure that arrival, departure and making connections are all as convenient as possible,” said ANA senior vice president Juichi Hirasawa.
“ANA’s partnership with Panasonic will make Narita Airport more welcoming and accessible, both of which are crucial to maintaining the airport’s status as a hub for international travel in the years to come.
“The robotic wheelchairs are just the latest element in ANA’s multi-faceted approach to improving hospitality in the air and on the ground.”
ANA has previously experimented with interactive robots and connected smart technology in a project also designed to help people with disabilities.
Other technology trials being conducted by the Japanese carrier include a wearable robotic exoskeleton, remote-controlled aircraft pushbacks, automatic baggage loaders and automated towing tractors.
Those trials aim to convert Kyusha Saga International Airport. on the island into “a hotbed of innovation and a premier logistics hub in the region”.
ANA said it hoped the trials would lead to important breakthroughs that would streamline and improve service on the ground.