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Flying is viewed by many as one of the most convenient ways to travel but for those with limited mobility, that's not often the case. Traversing a large airport or simply getting from one gate to another between layovers in a timely fashion, for example, can be taxing at best and downright impossible for others.
Airlines accommodate passengers to the best of their ability but current solutions are far from ideal.
In the event a passenger is traveling without their own mobility equipment, what typically happens is the airline will provide a manual wheelchair and a staffer to push them through the airport. This can be both a burden to the airline staff and another point where lax customer service can come into play.
It's these issues that Panasonic is currently working to alleviate through the use of advanced technology.
In partnership with mobility specialist Whill, the Japanese electronics giant is developing an autonomous electric wheelchair that'll help passengers traverse airports in an efficient manner.
Panasonic says users will be able to select routes using a smartphone then sit back as the chair automatically whisks them to their boarding gate or in-airport shop. The wheelchairs are capable of identify their own position, can automatically stop if a potential collision is detected, can be used in tandem (say, for family use) and can even return to a home base automatically after use.
Technical trials are expected to begin this year at Japan's Haneda Airport.