Etihad Airways has launched an innovative trial of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport, in advance of its move to the new Midfield Terminal.
The trial is a partnership between Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Airports in collaboration with personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL and information technology company SITA.
The WHILL ‘Autonomous Drive System’ wheelchairs 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 introduction of the autonomous option provides guests with the choice of freedom or to have traditional assistance via a team of dedicated porters, which will remain available.
The trial, which will last until the end of the year, will involve intensive testing and mapping of the airport environment to facilitate autonomous movement. This wheelchair is a first for any airline and airport in the region and features sensors to detect obstructions, providing an automatic ‘stop’ function. Future features in the pipeline include real-time gate and boarding time updates for guests.
In addition to this trial, the airline is exploring other technologies that can ease the stress of travelling for guests with other impairments such as blindness and deafness.