An airline is testing technology to make travel easier for people with disabilities

Oct 10, 2019

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For a number of months now, All Nippon Airways has been testing personal mobility, self-driving electric wheelchairs at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT). The test is part of the airline’s larger plan to help increase accessibility options at the busy hub.

Developed through a partnership between Panasonic and WHILL, a Japanese tech startup, the robotic chairs operate in a follow-the-leader fashion to reach a destination. The chairs are also capable of detecting and avoiding obstacles, though airline employees serve as guides.

Until now, testing hasn’t included actual passengers, but All Nippon Airways (often called ANA) just announced it’s expanding the tests so passengers can experience this innovative technology firsthand. The tests are scheduled to run from Oct. 9 through Nov. 28, with the hope that the chairs can be made available airport-wide after 2020.

(Photo courtesy of ANA)

Senior vice president Juichi Hirasawa said in a statement on Wednesday that “ANA has always prioritized making our services accessible, and we strive to set the standard for both technological innovation and accessibility so these tests will go a long way towards making sure that the full benefits of Narita Airport are open to all passengers.”

ANA uses nearly 300 wheelchairs per day to help transport passengers between gates. The robotic chairs will hopefully help in getting passengers to their connections on time and in a more efficient manner.

Air travel can be stressful for everyone, especially if you’re navigating the rules of emotional support animals or are traveling with an implant or prosthetic, for example. So it’s incredibly encouraging to see a major airline taking the initiative to advocate and innovate for travelers with disabilities.

Featured image courtesy of iurii/Shutterstock

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