Autonomous wheelchairs arrive at Japanese airport

It’s part of a wider program to improve accessibility for all.

The Uber of wheelchairs at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, people with disabilities will be able to hail autonomous wheelchairs using a smartphone app that lets them select a destination, sit back, and relax. Panasonic photo

Rachel England, Engadget August 8, 2017

Passengers with limited mobility will soon be able to navigate airports more easily thanks to Panasonic’s robotic electric wheelchair. Developed as part of a wider program to make Japan’s Haneda Airport more accessible to all, the wheelchair uses autonomous mobility — after users input their destination via smartphone, the wheelchair selects the best route to get there.

Multiple chairs can move in tandem which means families or groups can travel together, and after use, the chairs will ‘regroup’ automatically, reducing the workload for airport staff. The chairs also use sensors to stop automatically if they detect a potential collision.

The chairs will be tested between now and March 2018 alongside a number of other initiatives devised by Panasonic and NTT. Other programs include eliminating language barriers through smartphone object recognition technology (so just point your smartphone at a sign for a translation), reducing passenger congestion through crowd analysis technology and clearer intelligent audio signage for those with impaired vision.

Public testing of Information Universal Design begins at Haneda Airport. World-leading hospitality enters trial phase at Gateway to Japan. Tokyo International Air Terminal Corporation TIAT, Japan Airport Terminal Co., Ltd. JAT, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation NTT, and Panasonic Corporation. Published on YouTube Aug 8, 2017

Source Engadget
via Panasonic

SMART scores another first with Singapore’s self-driving wheelchair that has been piloted at a hospital. Published on YouTube Jun 8, 2017
SMART trials self-driving wheelchair at hospital
by Megan Scudellari, IEEE Spectrum 17 August 2017

Autonomous vehicles can add a new member to their ranks—the self-driving wheelchair. This summer, two robotic wheelchairs made headlines: one at a Singaporean hospital and another at a Japanese airport.

The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, or SMART, developed the former, first deployed in Singapore’s Changi General Hospital in September 2016, where it successfully navigated the hospital’s hallways. It is the latest in a string of autonomous vehicles made by SMART, including a golf cart, electric taxi and, most recently, a scooter that zipped more than 100 MIT visitors around on tours in 2016.

The SMART self-driving wheelchair has been in development for about a year and a half, since January 2016, says Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a principal investigator in the SMART Future Urban Mobility research group. Today, SMART has two wheelchairs in Singapore and two wheelchairs at MIT being tested in a variety of settings, says Rus.

The robot’s computer uses data from three LIDARs to make a map. A localization algorithm then determines where it is in the map. The chair’s six wheels lend stability, and the chair is designed to make tight turns and fit through normal-sized doorframes. “When we visited several retirement communities, we realized that the quality of life is dependent on mobility. We want to make it really easy for people to move around,” said Rus in a recent MIT statement.

Source IEEE Spectrum

Also see
ANA expands self-driving wheelchair test at Tokyo Narita airport in The Points Guy
Lidar-Equipped Autonomous Wheelchairs Roll Out in Singapore and Japan in IEEE Spectrum
Self-driving car tech can help another form of transport: wheelchairs in Wired

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