This Airport Tech Makes Flying Easier for Passengers With Disabilities
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A Japanese tech startup wants to make travel easier for US airline passengers who need a wheelchair — a group of about 20 million flyers every year.
The company, WHILL, is known for its innovative personal electric vehicles (EVs) and has just raised a $45 million in funding to help expand its products into US airports and other large venues around the world. Its latest project is an autonomous personal mobility device system developed specifically to help travelers with disabilities navigate airports — and soon, it might be coming to a terminal near you.
Let’s start at the beginning. Air travel for disabled passengers in the US desperately needs an update. Passengers in wheelchairs are frequently left waiting on airport employees for mobility, which in the hands of a stranger tends to be significantly limited and inflexible. WHILL’s new personal EV is projected to alleviate this issue by using autonomous technology. Meaning these electronic wheelchairs are self-driving and self-docking, removing the middleman from the equation altogether and giving the user full control.
The technology operates through sensors and cameras that are controlled through a mobile app by the customer, summoning their personal EV to go wherever they please. “They can go wherever they want — coffee shops, restrooms, shops — before heading to the gate without an assistant,” TechCrunch says. When the user is done with their personal EV, the wheelchairs are programmed to return to their docking station without any further human assistance. The EV’s are also programmed to take on various forms of terrain and can operate indoors and outdoors.
WHILL is now looking into how to expand the product into US airports. A similar version of this project is already being testing in Tokyo International Airport in a partnership with Panasonic.
The project would be a heavy left for US airports, as they would need to build the all new infrastructure to house the personal EVs. But, as age demographics shift, WHILL only expects the demand for such technologies to increase in the coming years.
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