Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi International Airport have become the first airline and airport in the region to trial autonomous wheelchairs.

The trial is being undertaken in partnership with air transport communications and information technology firm, SITA, and personal electric vehicle supplier, WHILL.

It comes ahead of the possible introduction of autonomous wheelchairs at the new Midfield Terminal.

Autonomous wheelchairs will allow passengers with restricted mobility to navigate around the airport.

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The technology features sensors to identify obstructions, activating the wheelchair’s automatic stop function. Real-time gate and boarding time update features are planned to be added in the future.

Trials will take place throughout the remainder of this year, with the final stage involving passengers with restricted mobility self-driving the wheelchairs through the airport.

Upon arrival at the gate, the wheelchairs will have the capability to return themselves to the collection point without the need of staff.

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Porters will remain available to provide wheelchair assistance.

Abu Dhabi Airports CEO Bryan Thompson said: “We are delighted to be working with Etihad Airways to trial the use of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

“Enhancing the freedom of movement of those with mobility restrictions forms a part of our wider commitment to delivering a smooth and seamless passenger experience to each and every traveller through the implementation of innovative and cutting-edge technologies throughout Abu Dhabi International Airport and our upcoming Midfield Terminal.”

Etihad Airways said it is also exploring other technologies to ease travelling for those with visual and hearing impairments.

Etihad Aviation Group COO Mohammad Al Bulooki said: “This trial is particularly important because it empowers Etihad Airways’ guests and provides them with a level of freedom at the airport, which hasn’t been available before.”

In June, Etihad Airways partnered with Swae to launch an artificial intelligence-powered crowdsourcing and engagement platform for employees.