Haneda International Airport in Japan has decided to utilise the WHILL autonomous drive system to transport passengers with reduced mobility.

The autonomous machine is designed to replace wheelchairs by transporting passengers who face difficulties in walking long distances or who have limited mobility to their designated boarding gates.

The system is compatible with the WHILL autonomous models and operates using sensors and area maps. After transporting the passenger, the self-driving machine is capable of returning to the base automatically.

The introduction of the system will help the Japanese airport to reduce contagion risks through contact between wheelchair service staff and passengers amid the Covid-19 crisis.

WHILL CEO Satoshi Sugie said: “In the coronavirus era, we believe services that support mobility while maintaining social distancing will accelerate to replace human labour with robots and autonomous driving technologies.

“WHILL wants to provide a safe service that connects the last mile. We look forward to rapidly developing our business in order to help restore a world where people can move around with peace of mind and enjoyment.”

The company has piloted the self-driving wheelchair system at several airports, including Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport and John F Kennedy International Airport in the US, as well as Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE and Winnipeg International Airport in Canada.

Overall, 11 trials were carried out, where around 400 passengers and airport officials used the self-driving system.

The company is now working to introduce the machine to other airports.

Earlier this year, All Nippon Airways (ANA) carried out an autonomous electric bus trial at the Haneda International Airport.