WHILL brings self-driving wheelchairs to North America as Dallas & Winnipeg airports trial MaaS model
Furthering its Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) model worldwide, advanced powerchair manufacturer WHILL has started trials for its Airport Mobility Service in the US’ Dallas and Canada’s Winnipeg international airports.
The exciting development follows the launch of the company’s recent trial at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, where autonomous powerchairs transport those with mobility needs through the busy South Wing of its Terminal 1.
A scheme that would have sounded like science-fiction a decade ago, WHILL’s MaaS model sees its powerchairs use sensors to enable the devices to identify and navigate obstructions, allowing users to move freely throughout the airport without the assistance of friends, family or airport staff.
So far, the company has trialled its MaaS initiative in Abu Dhabi Airport earlier this year and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol previously, however, the new trials will prove to the be the first on the North American continent and could pave the way for a mass rollout.
“When travelling, checking in, getting through security and to the gate on time is critical to avoid the hassle and frustration of missing a flight,” said Satoshi Sugie, Founder and CEO of WHILL.
“Travelers with reduced mobility usually have to wait longer times for an employee to bring them a wheelchair and be pushed to their gate, reducing their flexibility while travelling. We are now providing an opportunity for travellers with reduced mobility to have a sense of independence as they move about the airport and get from point A to point B as smoothly as possible.
“Our trials have proven to be successful in other countries and we’re excited to bring this initiative to North America for the first time.”
Known to UK dealers as the futuristic-looking powerchair available from TGA Mobility, WHILL manufacturers the cutting-edge Model Ci and Model A powerchair models, which it refers to as Intelligent Personal Electric Vehicles (EVs).
The North American trials at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) took place on the 14th and 15th November, featuring both semi and full autonomous WHILL models, while the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport (YWG) trial is set to take place on the 12th and 13th of December.
According to WHILL, the new MaaS system will see travellers arriving at the airport greeted by their WHILL powerchair, which will navigate the user through the airport to their gate. After dropping off the passenger, the model will return to its docking station, ready for the next traveller.
The quickening of WHILL’s MaaS rollout comes after its merger with US-based mobility aid rental company Scootaround, which already has an established rental network with major airports, sports venues, shopping centres and more.
With airports and airlines around the world committing to improving accessibility following the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) first Global Accessibility Symposium in November, there is a veritable appetite for new mobility solutions which may well accelerate WHILL’s MaaS airport ambitions.
“We are committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience for every traveller through our airport, regardless of their level of mobility,” said Barry Rempel, President and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority.
“Accessibility is a priority for Winnipeg Richardson International Airport and travel is now easier for passengers with limited mobility thanks to our partnership with WHILL. We are excited to be one of the first airports in North America to trial WHILL’s autonomous personal mobility devices with our travellers.”
As WHILL and Scootaround continue to implement their shared MaaS model, the organisations confirmed their combined goal is to have WHILL’s Personal EVs in airports across the world along with Scootaround’s services to ensure an efficient travel experience.
Watch the video below to learn more about WHILL’s MaaS model: