Etihad Airways is starting a trial of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport, in advance of its move to the new Midfield Terminal.
The trial is a partnership with Abu Dhabi Airports, in collaboration with personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL and information technology company SITA.
The autonomous wheelchairs will allow passengers with restricted mobility to move around the airport on their own, without the need for assistance from a member of staff.The wheelchairs feature sensors to detect obstructions, providing an automatic ‘stop’ function. Future features in the pipeline include real-time gate and boarding time updates for passengers.
The final stage of the trial will involve passengers with restricted mobility, self-driving the wheelchairs through Abu Dhabi International Airport, navigating through the duty-free shops and lounges to their departure gate, without the need of assistance from a member of staff.
On arrival at the gate, and once the guest has boarded the flight, the wheelchairs will have the capability to return themselves to the collection point without staff involvement.
The trial, which will last until the end of the year, will involve intensive testing and mapping of the airport environment to facilitate autonomous movement.
This wheelchair is a first for any airline and airport in the region.
Porters will remain available for passengers who want traditional wheelchair assistance.
Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer, Etihad Aviation Group:
Etihad is an airline that has innovation at its core, be that on the ground or inflight. This latest trial of autonomous wheelchairs not only showcases the airline’s commitment to innovation, but more importantly inclusive innovation. This trial is particularly important because it empowers Etihad Airways’ guests and provides them with a level of freedom at the airport which hasn’t been available before. The possibilities that this new technology introduces are truly exciting and the teams are working hard to ensure that the experience of the airlines’ guests is as seamless and independent as possible.”
Bryan Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi Airports:
We are delighted to be working with Etihad Airways to trial the use of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Enhancing the freedom of movement of those with mobility restrictions forms a part of our wider commitment to delivering a smooth and seamless passenger experience to each and every traveler through the implementation of innovative and cutting-edge technologies throughout Abu Dhabi International Airport and our upcoming Midfield Terminal.”
Satoshi Sugie, Founder and CEO of WHILL:
Long distance travel has evolved in the past few decades, however there has been no innovation for travelling short distances. WHILL’s strength lies in the capability to provide hardware and service globally in the ‘safe, single-person vehicle’ category. We want to create a world with smart and fun transportation for everyone including those with reduced mobility, and are excited about the opportunity to trial our technology at Abu Dhabi International Airport in partnership with Etihad and Abu Dhabi Airports.”
N.B. Image credit: Abu Dhabi International Airport