Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) is the world’s fifth busiest airport with over 80 million passengers in 2016 (Related Insight). With an aging population and an international mix of travellers, the airport is working with technology companies to invest in new accessibility solutions that would improve passenger experience and help it gain an advantage in a competitive landscape. This post highlights one trial with Panasonic to introduce automated electric wheelchair at terminals.
Panasonic and WHILL NEXT at Haneda Airport
Japan has one of the highest medium age in the world at 46.9 years. As of July 2017, the Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported that the population 65 years old and over made up of 45.8% of Japan’s total. In combination with Tokyo Haneda Airport (“Haneda”) carrying 15.2 million international passengers in 2016 (up 19.1%), the airport authority found a need to invest in accessibility innovations. Besides better signage, auto translation services in mobile technologies and audio improvements, Haneda is working with Panasonic and WHILL inc. to trial automated robotic electric wheelchairs inside the terminal areas for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM).
How Does It Work
The Panasonic developed the automated robotic electric wheelchairs dubbed “WHILL NEXT” with collaboration from WHILL Inc. based in San Francisco, United States. WHILL NEXT is taken from the Model M design that is compact, ultra responsive and has a tight turning radius. While the airport and Panasonic did not disclose the price of the WHILL NEXT wheelchairs, the Model M (as a reference) retails for about US$11,000 each.
Between August 8, 2017 to March 31, 2017, Haneda will conduct technical trial using these wheelchairs with focus on 1. Automatic Stop, 2. Autonomous Mobility and 3.Tandem Movement functions within the airport terminal. Additionally, the airport will work with airline partners on workflow improvements that will reduce staff overheads and improve the travel experience.
Yuichiro Haraguchi, Senior Coordinator at Panasonic Corporation discussed how the WHILL NEXT would work in the following video:
Benefits and Considerations
Currently, these automated wheelchairs can be ordered by passengers directly through a mobile application for transport to key destinations like check in. The first phase of the trial will be to seek passenger feedback on the experience including physical comfortable, pacing, collusion avoidance, wayfinding capabilities and overall trust that these wheelchairs took them to where they need to be. All the above are some considerations to determine to the overall satisfaction with the experience.
Airport / Airlines
Airport and airlines can track usage of the automated wheelchairs and find a balance between convenience, comfort, overhead and staff productivity. In particular, implementation and maintenance costs should be factored into lower overhead staffing costs and maintenance of existing wheelchairs.
If Haneda decides to include automated wheelchairs as part of its suite of accessible offering, the airport can maximize the benefits by including:
- Order management through partnerships with all airlines – This will allow passengers with a wheelchair request in their profile or ticket to gain access to these wheelchairs as part of a seamless travel solution.
- Enhance notification – Similar to Uber, embed time and location information as part of an overall notification design to show where these wheelchairs prior to pick up. This can be further enhanced with communication with headphones and digital assistants (Related Insight).
- Enhance language capabilities – Improve communication between the wheelchair to the passenger by offering different language options.
- Enhance navigation controls – Currently, these wheelchairs can transport to a specific location and cannot be used on a jetbridge. The next enhancement may be to allow access onto the jetbridge as part of the last mile before entering the aircraft. Beacon technology already deployed at Haneda (Related Insight) can be utilized to aid with wayfinding and positioning.
- Enhance tracking mechanisms – This will allow the airport authority and airlines to know where the passenger is located for boarding purposes.