Assistive technology increases independence and improves participation in society for the disabled and the elderly. Those who have a mobility impairment tend to use wheelchairs and other motor devices to more easily move throughout the world.
However, society is not fully equipped to give the mobility impaired the assistance that they need. In places such as airports, passengers who need wheelchairs often struggle to get their basic needs met. While disabled passengers make arrangements before they arrive at the airport, they often have to wait for a designated worker to attend to them. Accounts of wheelchair users being stranded on a plane or elsewhere at the airport are commonplace, with some passengers being forced to miss their flights altogether. In November 2018, a man even collapsed at Heathrow after waiting 30 minutes for a booked wheelchair to show up and had to be taken to a hospital.
WHILL, a “mobility-as-a-service” (MaaS) company headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, wants to help alleviate these problems and give wheelchair users a chance to regain their independence. The company has introduced several models of semi-autonomous and full autonomous wheelchairs—known as independent personal use vehicles—to the market and is launching its MaaS service at airports around the world.
“When traveling, checking in, getting through security and to the gate on time is critical to avoid the hassle and frustration of missing a flight,” Satoshi Sugie, founder and CEO of WHILL, said in a statement. “Travelers with reduced mobility usually have to wait longer times for an employee to bring them a wheelchair and be pushed to their gate, reducing their flexibility while traveling. We are now providing an opportunity for travelers with reduced mobility to have a sense of independence as they move about the airport and get from point A to point B as smoothly as possible.”
After trials in Tokyo’s Haneda airport, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and Abu Dhabi airport earlier, WHILL, is now bringing its assistive tech to the United States and Canada.
“Our trials have proven to be successful in other countries and we’re excited to bring this initiative to North America for the first time,” Sugie said.
Trials of the company’s semi and full autonomous devices took place in Dallas, Texas, in November, and the semi-autonomous trials in Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, will take place in December.
“Accessibility is a priority for Winnipeg Richardson International Airport and travel is now easier for passengers with limited mobility thanks to our partnership with WHILL,” said Barry Rempel, president and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority. “We are excited to be one of the first airports in North America to trial WHILL’s autonomous personal mobility devices with our travelers.”