Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) said this week it is launching a pilot program to test the use of no-fee, walk-up, autonomous power chairs made by mobility product developer, WHILL, a Tokyo-based company with its U.S. headquarters in the Bay Area.
The March 11 to March 14 test will let passengers use the autonomous power chairs for free by simply selecting a destination on a screen. The device independently navigates through the terminal to their gate, then automatically drives itself back to its base at the Security Checkpoint. For safety, the device is equipped with an automatic collision avoidance system.
The WHILL devices are intended to supplement existing wheelchair service, aimed at passengers who might want assistance reaching gates located further distances from the Security Checkpoint, but who have reserved a wheelchair.
“We understand that our customers are the heart of our operation, and as Silicon Valley’s airport, we welcome innovation,” said SJC Airport Director John Aitken. “Pilots like this help us continue to strive to stay ahead of our customers’ needs.”
WHILL has successfully implemented the autonomous devices at Haneda International Airport (HNA) in Tokyo, Japan, and has had trials domestically at the Dallas-Fort Worth International (DFW), Houston Intercontinental (IAH), Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL), John Kennedy International (JFK) and Gerald Ford International (GRR) airports.
“Our device not only increases the mobility of customers looking to travel,” said Shannon Fain, WHILL’s director of business development for North America. “But also increases their independence and overall experience, while at the same time improving airport operations and efficiency.”