Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) is the latest airport to trial fully autonomous wheelchairs.
Last weekend, passengers were able to use the no-fee, walk-up, autonomous power chairs.
To use the wheelchair, passengers select a destination on a screen and the vehicle independently navigates its way to the gate. The passenger gets off and the vehicle automatically drives itself back to its base ready for the next passenger.
For safety, the device is equipped with an automatic collision avoidance system.
The wheelchairs are for the use of passengers who have difficulty walking long distances or have limited mobility. They are not intended to replace existing wheelchair services that require airline staff to escort the passenger.
The wheelchairs are made by mobility device developer, WHILL, a Tokyo-based company with its US headquarters in the Bay Area. WHILL has made a short video showing how it works.
In June 2020 Tokyo Haneda International Airport became the first airport to deploy the WHILL self-driving wheelchairs.
WHILL has also conducted multiple trials at airports of its autonomous drive system, including:
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Grand Rapids
- John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Winnipeg International Airport
- Abu Dhabi International Airport
All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Panasonic Corporation ran tests of self-driving electric wheelchairs at Tokyo Narita International Airport in 2019.
N.B. Image credit: WHILL