Amsterdam Schiphol trials autonomous wheelchairs

Aims to help passengers with reduced mobility navigate the airport

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the latest in the industry to trial autonomous wheelchairs.

The largest airport in the Netherlands is running a one week trial of the smart wheelchairs that help passengers with reduced mobility to navigate the terminal freely and independently.

The wheelchairs take passengers to where they are going airside at the airport without human input. As a result, they offer independence for passengers who are unable to walk long distances but may not have their own wheelchair.

Programmed to follow a fixed route, the autonomous wheelchairs can only travel on certain known routes. The passenger can change destination as many times as they like on their way to the boarding gate.

The vehicles safely navigate the terminal without the need for assistance. They are brimming with anti-collision technology and even have an emergency stop button.

Schiphol Amsterdam trial autonomous wheelchair for passengers
The wheelchair moves at the pace of passengers – it doesn’t zoom ahead [Image: WHILL]

A growing number of airports are introducing or at least trialling autonomous wheelchairs including some of the world’s largest including Atlanta, Tokyo Haneda and Abu Dhabi.

More about autonomous wheelchairs at airports

    They are not intended to replace existing wheelchair services that require airline staff to escort the passenger.

    How it works

    • The passenger pops their hand baggage on the rack at the back, sit in the wheelchair and strap themselves in for the ride.
    • Then select a destination (for example, the gate number) on a screen on the vehicle and it then independently navigates its way to that very location.
    • The passenger gets off and the vehicle automatically drives itself back to its base ready for the next passenger.

    Here is a a video showing how the wheelchairs work at Schiphol during the trial.

    The autonomous wheelchair returns to base on its own after delivering its passenger

    Schiphol and passenger experience

    Schiphol and passenger experience are not phrases that go well together these days.

    The airport says it is doing the trial as it wants “to offer all travelers a pleasant travel experience at Schiphol”.

    Patricia Vitalis, Director Airport Operations and Aviation Partnerships at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol:

    “We want to offer all travelers a pleasant travel experience at Schiphol. That is why we are testing this innovation. With the autonomous vehicles, we are exploring how travelers with reduced mobility can find their way independently and safely at the airport. This fulfills the need of this group to be able to travel independently. We are curious about their experiences during this pilot.”

    Delivering a pleasant passenger experience is something Schiphol has not delivered for a long time. It used to be a decent enough airport, although overrated and ridiculously overpriced. But since April 2022 it has been quite simply the worst airport.

    I was one of the many whose trip was ruined by Schiphol that month. In my case, I missed my flight on BA to London Gatwick because of the utter fiasco at Schiphol security checkpoints and border control egates. First flight missed in a lifetime of travel.

    Schiphol’s problems are ongoing, although not quite so horrendous. In March, I’ll be making my first trip back to Amsterdam – my other home – since that worse ever experience.

    I won’t seeing the wheelchairs in action but hope to see at least a decent level of service return.


    The wheelchairs are made by Tokyo-based WHILL, a mobility device developer.

    WHILL self-driving wheelchair returns to base
    The WHILL self-driving wheelchair returns to base by itself [Image: WHILL]

    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:

    N.B. Image credits: WHILL and Schiphol

    Internet links

    Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)