Self-driving electric wheelchairs to be tested at Narita Airport
In a bid to help those with limited mobility get to the gate, Tokyo Narita International Airport is set to welcome a number of self-driving wheelchairs to its floors. With the ability to navigate the airport all on their own, the new wheelchairs are hoped to streamline foot traffic in one of Japan's busiest airports and form part of a wider plan to boost mobility options at such facilities.
From checking in, to moving through security, to walking briskly to make that connecting flight, navigating an airport can require passengers to cover quite a bit of ground. This can be demanding enough with a heavy bag or two in tow, and particularly so for the elderly or those with mobility issues.
It is with this in mind that Japan's largest airline, All Nippon Airways, has teamed up with Panasonic to explore new mobility solutions designed specifically for airports. The electric, robotic self-wheelchairs are an early product of that partnership, and as part of upcoming trials will use navigation software to make their way around the airport, avoiding people and obstacles en route to their destination.
To begin with, ANA staff will accompany the wheelchairs and serve as guides, with the vehicles hoped to just be a precursor to new technologies that improve mobility at airports at which it operates.
"Narita Airport is a gateway to Japan for millions of travellers 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 Juichi Hirasawa, Senior Vice President of ANA.