British Airways Testing Self-Driving Wheelchairs at JFK Airport

Getting around the airport can be tough. There are always large crowds and you are often in a hurry to get to your gate. If you are disabled or elderly, it can be even more of a challenge. One airline is turning to AI to make it easier for those with mobility issues to get around the airport.

British Airways has become the first airline to trial fully autonomous, electric mobility devices in North America. The self-driving, self-navigating wheelchairs are being tested at New York’s JFK airport. The electric vehicles were built by mobility company WHILL.

The self-driving wheelchairs are equipped with cameras, sensors and anti-collision technology. Customers can simply use a touch screen to set their preferred destination anywhere within the airport. There is no need for assistance from airport staff or travel companions.

The wheelchair makes its way around the airport using built-in wayfair mapping. Once they reach the gate, the user gets off and the device will self-drive back to the docking station ready for the next customer.

“Offering additional independence for customers who are unable to walk long distances but may not have their own wheelchair, the autonomous mobility devices give customers the freedom to explore the airport at their leisure, changing destination as many times as they like on their way to the boarding gate, “ said British Airways in a press release.

self-driving wheelchair British Airways JFK - YellRobot
credit: British Airways

Self-Driving Wheelchairs to be Tested at Heathrow

According to British Airways, almost half a million of their customers require additional assistance and this number is due to rise by 10 percent by 2021. The airline is exploring new ways to offer a seamless travel experience and better accommodate guests who may have mobility issues. The airline plans to expand the testing of its autonomous wheelchairs to other airports.

“Over the next few months, we will be collaborating on a further trial at our busy home hub at Heathrow Terminal 5 to gather more feedback and explore the introduction of this technology alongside our team of customer service professionals to provide a truly seamless and accessible airport experience. I’m excited about the future of inclusive innovation to support the accelerating demand for accessible air travel,” said Ricardo Vidal, British Airways’ Head of Innovation.

Check out our articles on Blendid’s smoothie robot and self-driving taxis in London.