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ANA and Panasonic partner to test self-driving electric wheelchairs at Narita Airport

Japan’s largest airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Panasonic Corporation are to work together to test self-driving electric wheelchairs, as part of a plan to increase mobility and accessibility at Tokyo Narita International Airport.

Incorporating robotic elements, these wheelchairs will be capable to safely navigate through the airport independently, making them an ideal mobility solution for passengers connecting flights.

Since Narita Airport is an international hub, many travellers must walk a long distance to reach their connecting flights.

The airport’s size and high volume of activity can make this inconvenient, and this difficulty is compounded for  travellers with mobility issues.

ANA and Panasonic are teaming to run trials on new electric wheelchairs which boast tracking capabilities that allow them to navigate the bustling airport.

Juichi Hirasawa, Senior Vice President of ANA said: “ANA’s partnership with Panasonic will make Narita Airport more welcoming and accessible, both of which are crucial to maintaining the airport’s status as a hub for international travel in the years to come.

“The robotic wheelchairs are just the latest element in ANA’s multi-faceted approach to improving hospitality in the air and on the ground.”

The self-driving electric wheelchair jointly developed by Panasonic and WHILL, Inc., is capable of independently detecting and avoid people and obstacles on the way to their destinations.

The wheelchairs function by following a predetermined leader to a common destination, and ANA staff will be on hand to serve as guides.