Etihad Airways together with its partners Abu Dhabi Airports and WHILL, a personal electric vehicle supplier, have finished trialing self-driving wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport in an effort to increase accessibility options for passengers.
Initially announced in September, these vehicles aim to enable guests with restricted mobility to move around the airport environment on their own, without the need for assistance from a member of staff.
The four-day trials, which began on December 2, involved over 60 guests with restricted mobility. The airline said the members of the test group self-drove the wheelchairs, navigating crowded areas and lounges before safely arriving at their gate. It added that after completing the journey, the wheelchairs returned autonomously back to the docking station without requiring any human assistance.
The wheelchairs are fitted with sensors that detect obstructions and have an automatic ‘stop’ function to allow trial participants to travel around the airport independently. Etihad said that during the trial assistance from porters was on hand to guide guests on usage of the wheelchairs and provide support whenever required.
Ahmed Al Shamisi, acting CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports said: “Convenience is one of the most important factors in the traveller experience today. We want to make it even easier for passengers to enjoy our airports with ease. Through these trials, we have shown that restricted mobility passengers and their families can enjoy greater freedom of movement while still ensuring that the technology can be used safely and securely in our facilities.”
Etihad said intensive mapping and trialing of the wheelchairs will continue for the coming weeks, and that a “comprehensive evaluation” will determine the viability of the wheelchairs in the airport’s Midfield Terminal.
Earlier this year, Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) partnered with electronics giant Panasonic Corporation to trial new self-driving electric wheelchairs at the airport.