British Airways says it has become the first airline to trial “fully autonomous, electric mobility devices” in North America.

The trial has seen the carrier partner with Japanese technology firm Whill to provide the self-driving wheelchairs for its customers travelling through New York’s JFK airport.

According to BA the devices “are equipped with anti-collision technology and allow customers to set their preferred destination anywhere within the airport”, allowing customers to navigate the terminal “without the need for assistance from travel companions or the airport support team”.

Users can change their destination within the airport using a mobile app, and once they have reached the gate and alighted from the chair, it will self-drive back to a docking station ready for the next customer.

Ricardo Vidal, head of innovation at BA, said that “Over the next few months we will be collaborating on a further trial at our busy home hub at Heathrow Terminal 5 to gather more feedback and explore the introduction of this technology alongside our team of customer service professionals to provide a truly seamless and accessible airport experience”.

In December BA’s CEO Alex Cruz signed a pledge committing the airline to The Valuable 500, a global movement aimed at making accessibility a business priority.

The carrier said that almost half a million customers travelling with BA each year require additional assistance, with this figure set to rise by 10 per cent by 2021.

ANA recently undertook a similar trial of self-driving mobility vehicles at Tokyo Narita International, and Etihad has trialled Whill devices at Abu Dhabi airport.

For a look at ways in which technology is changing the airport experience, see:

Five ways the airport experience is changing