* Self-driving wheelchairs manufactured by Panasonic and WHILL Inc are being tested in Tokyo Haneda International Airport to assist disabled flyers.
* They are able to navigate to the airport gates, shops and check-in desks.
* They can also connect with other wheelchairs for group travel
Panasonic has started testing its fleet of self-driving wheelchairs at one Japan’s main airports – the Tokyo Haneda Airport. Japan wants to have a lot of these wheelchairs in place at its major airports by the time the Summer Olympics start in 2020.
Dubbed the WHILL Next, the app-controlled self-driving wheelchairs is able to transport users around the airport right from the moment they exit the plane or from the moment they arrive at the airport for their flight. In the case of a departing passenger, the wheelchair will find its way to the user and take them to the appropriate check-in desk.
So here is how the autonomous wheelchair system work
Anyone wishing to use the WHILL Next can summon one using a special app. The user is then be able to input their preferred destination within the airport into app. The smart wheelchairs are equipped with different sensors and image recognition system to help them navigate through the airport autonomously and should any one of them detect a potential collision ahead, it will automatically stop until it is safe to continue on its journey.
The wheelchairs are also programmed to ‘talk to each other’ so they can travel side-by-side, which is useful for visitors travelling in a group. Each WHILL Next can also connect to smart luggage carts so they can automatically follow the user without getting lost.
Panasonic and WHILL Inc are not the only companies and researchers currently developing self-driving wheelchairs. A team of Robotic Engineers at the University of Toronto has been working on developing smart wheelchairs that are cheaper than the ones being tested in Japan. Also researchers at Northwestern University are developing a similar wheelchair for the purpose of assisting people cannot operate typical wheelchairs.
[Featured Photo: Panasonic]