All Nippon Airways (ANA) has partnered with Panasonic Corporation to test self-driving electric wheelchairs at Tokyo Narita International airport.

The pilot programme is part of ANA’s plan to increase mobility and accessibility options at the airport. Incorporating robotic elements, the wheelchairs will be capable of navigating through the terminal independently by using tracking technology.

ANA says the devices are “an ideal mobility solution for passengers connecting flights”, who often have to walk a long distance to reach their next gate.

The self-driving electric wheelchairs developed by Panasonic and WHILL Co are capable of independently detecting and avoiding people and obstacles on the way to their destinations. They function by following a predetermined route to a common destination, with ANA staff on hand to serve as guides if needed.

Juichi Hirasawa, senior vice president of ANA, said: “Narita airport is a gateway to Japan for millions of travellers every year and we seek to partner with other leading Japanese innovators to make sure that arrival, departure and making connections are all as convenient as possible. ANA’s partnership with Panasonic will make Narita airport more welcoming and accessible, both of which are crucial to maintaining the airport’s status as a hub for international travel in the years to come. The robotic wheelchairs are just the latest element in ANA’s multi-faceted approach to improving hospitality in the air and on the ground.”

ana.co.jp; panasonic.com/global