British Airways has become the first airline to trial fully autonomous, electric mobility devices in North America.
The self-driving, self-navigating electric vehicles from Japanese technology firm Whill have been trialled by British Airways customers at New York’s JFK Airport. Equipped with anti-collision technology, they enable travelers to set their preferred destination anywhere within the airport. The vehicle safely navigates the terminal without the need for assistance from travel companions or the airport support team, which is currently responsible for escorting customers from check-in directly to the boarding gate.
Providing additional independence for travelers unable to walk long distances but without their own wheelchair, the autonomous mobility devices offer the freedom to explore the airport at their leisure, changing destination as many times as they like on their way to the boarding gate. Once they reach the gate, the customer alights and the device will self-drive back to the docking station ready for the next customer.
According to Ricardo Vidal, British Airways’ head of innovation, the airline is trialling autonomous mobility devices in direct response to customer feedback: “Our customers tell us they would like greater independence and control over their journey through the airport, so we were keen to trial autonomous devices and see our customers’ response to the very latest mobility technology in a real airport environment.”
Vidal added that over the next few months British Airways will collaborate on a further trial at its home hub, London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, to gather further feedback and explore the introduction of the technology.