Panasonic tests autonomous tracking robots at Tokyo railway station
Panasonic is trialing a new robotic mobility system that uses three electric wheelchairs equipped with autonomous "follow-the-leader" tracking functionality.
As robotic systems become more sophisticated, they will move more and more into our daily lives, but for that to work, these robots have to be able to operate in the chaotic, unpredictable human environment. This means a lot of real-world testing by the likes of Panasonic, which sees a market not only for mobility devices for individuals, but also for moving groups of people about as well.
The current tests, which are scheduled to run until September, are taking place in a normally closed section of the Takanawa Gateway Station in Minato, Tokyo, with the aim assessing how well the devices perform in a semi-outdoor environment.
Panasonic says the first of the three electric wheelchairs will be operated by a station employee, while the second and third robot will follow the first automatically like baby ducks following their mother. A key element is the ability of the robots to brake automatically. If someone steps in front of a robot, it can slow down or stop, then start up again when the obstruction is cleared.
The goal is to eventually develop a mobility system that does away with the operator and can work completely unmanned, opening the way to more sophisticated applications.