Coming Up: Autonomous Vehicles at Your Service
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Apr 01, 2019
If you’ve ever waited — and waited — for a wheelchair and attendant to take you or a family member to a gate or to baggage claim in an airport, you know that the typical airport process can be frustrating and time consuming. What if there were a more efficient way to support people with mobility needs in airports and throughout their communities?
In January 2019, WHILL, the California-based manufacturer of power wheelchairs and personal mobility devices, demonstrated new autonomous technology at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
WHILL introduced “what is destined to be an integral part of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) infrastructure of the future, the WHILL Autonomous Drive,” the company said.
At the heart of the system is WHILL’s Autonomous Drive PEV (Personal Electric Vehicle), which “will be common in future public settings, such as theme parks, museums, hospitals, shopping malls, airports and city centers,” said Satoshi Sugie, co-founder and CEO of WHILL, in a news announcement. “In the not-so-distant future, a user who has difficulty walking will merely ‘summon’ the vehicle. The WHILL Autonomous Drive technology will allow even first-time operators to experience greater independence as they’re relieved of the burden of requiring assistance.”
By the time the 2019 CES was underway, WHILL was beta testing its autonomous technology and had signed agreements to test WHILL vehicles at airports including London’s Heathrow.
WHILL’s system of automated dispatching and returning of its mobility vehicles is expected to have several benefits, the manufacturer said, including reducing operating expenses at airports and reducing the amount of time that passengers need to wait for available wheelchairs and wheelchair attendants.
A video on WHILL’s Web site (whill.us/maas-business/) showed that the manufacturer is envisioning the benefits of rentable autonomous vehicles well beyond airport settings. In fact, the video suggests that consumers who need mobility assistance could in the future summon and use personal vehicles in a variety of indoor and outdoor environments. When it’s no longer needed, the vehicle would drive itself back to its starting location or storage area to await its next call. How’s that for convenience?
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.