Self-driving wheelchairs to be tested at Tokyo airport

The advent of driverless vehicles has long promised benefits for people with disabilities or limited mobility.

Indeed, a white paper published earlier this year predicted that self-driving cars could help to open as many as two million employment opportunities for those with disabilities.

Now, testing is underway on a new and unusual form of autonomous mobility in Japan, where Panasonic is trialling self-driving electric wheelchairs at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

The WHILL NEXT mobility robot, developed through a collaboration between Panasonic and WHILL Inc., is designed to provide safe and comfortable transport for passengers with reduced mobility. According to Panasonic, the use of airports by these passengers is set to increase.

The trial will focus on testing three key functions: an automatic stop function that sees the wheelchair halt if it identifies a potential collision; an autonomous mobility function that allows the robot to move to a destination set via smartphone; and a tandem movement function that allows families or groups of wheelchair users to travel together automatically in a convoy.

Panasonic said that it will seek to implement or adopt ICT technologies based on the results of its public testing.