The realization of a society in which physically disabled people can be transported on autonomous wheelchairs at such places as airports and shopping centers has moved a step closer with the start of trials in Tokyo by Yokohama-based venture company Whill Inc. together with Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and others.
Preinstalled information of a facility’s layout allows the wheelchair to collect users from a requested location and a return to a standby position after use. The wheelchair can also autonomously operate elevators to change floors.
Wheelchair users have the option of operating the wheelchair themselves using an onboard controller.
Sensors installed at the tip of both armrests monitor the wheelchair’s physical surroundings, such as passersby and walls. If the sensors detect a collision risk the wheelchair automatically stops.
The technology will also help facility operators reduce labor costs because the wheelchairs do not need to be taken to and collected from users by staff.
The wheelchair won the top award in the accessibility section at CES — one of the world’s largest consumer electronics show — which was held in January in the United States.
The development team is proceeding with talks with British and Dutch airports for the introduction of the wheelchair, according to sources. They intend to put them into practical use by 2020.
“I want this wheelchair to be something that everyone wants to use,” Whill Chief Technology Officer Muneaki Fukuoka said.