WHILL’s Autonomous Vehicle Trials Come to North America
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Nov 20, 2019
WHILL’s autonomous vehicle trials successfully debuted in Texas last week and are scheduled for Canada in December.
In a Nov. 20 news announcement, the manufacturer of personal mobility devices, including the Model Ci and the Model A, said semi- and fully autonomous trials of the devices took place Nov. 14-15 at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
The next trial, a semi-autonomous one, is scheduled for Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Manitoba, Canada, Dec. 12-13.
Previously, WHILL’s devices had been tested at Tokyo (Haneda) International Airport in Japan and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.
The testing is part of WHILL’s Mobility as a Service (MaaS) model, in which WHILL mobility devices can be used on demand by airport visitors who need mobility support.
Those visitors can use WHILL’s devices throughout the airport, such as to ride them from the check-in area to their airplane gates.
Once at their destinations, visitors would deploy the “return” feature, and the devices would drive themselves back to their points of origin. The devices are capable of detecting and avoiding obstacles, such as people and furnishings, in their paths. In fully autonomous mode, the devices independently drive to the desired destination in addition to driving themselves back afterward.
WHILL CEO Satoshi Sugie said in the announcement, “When traveling, checking in, getting through security and to the gate on time is critical to avoid the hassle and frustration of missing a flight. 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 traveling. We are now providing an opportunity for travelers 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.”
WHILL’s personal mobility devices are not classified as power wheelchairs, though the manufacturer’s now-discontinued Model M device was defined as a power chair.
In fall 2018, WHILL merged with Scootaround, a dealer specializing in renting and selling consumer power chairs and scooters. WHILL said the partnership would create “a worldwide platform for assistive devices.”
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.