Autonomous wheelchairs to be trialled at Mineta San José International

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Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) in California is to trial autonomous power chairs made by mobility product developer Whill.

To operate the chairs, passengers select a destination on a screen and the device independently navigates through the terminal to their gate, then automatically drives itself back to its base at the security checkpoint. For safety, the device is equipped with an automatic collision avoidance system.

The trial will run from March 11-14 to test customer interest in the concept. The devices are intended to supplement existing wheelchair service, not replace it. It is aimed at passengers who might want assistance reaching gates farther from the security checkpoint, but do not reserve a wheelchair.

John Aitken the airport director at SJC, said, “We understand that our customers are the heart of our operation, and as Silicon Valley’s airport, we welcome innovation. Pilots like this help us continue to strive to stay ahead of our customers’ needs.”

Shannon Fain, the director of business development for North America at Whill, said, “Our device not only increases the mobility of customers looking to travel, but also increases their independence and overall experience, while at the same time improving airport operations and efficiency.”

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