Trials of next-generation self-driving electric wheelchairs have been carried out at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, to help elderly and other people get to boarding gates more easily.

Japan Airlines aims to start using the self-driving wheelchairs as early as the business year that starts next April.

Currently, JAL offers manual wheelchairs at airports across the country. Around 100 JAL customers a day use wheelchairs at Haneda.

The self-driving wheelchairs are designed to allow users to move without any escort. They automatically return to their home positions after use, making it unnecessary for workers to go and collect them.

A trial was conducted at Haneda on Nov. 2 and 3 to see whether users could operate a self-driving wheelchair without hitting other people or obstacles, and whether the wheelchairs would return to their original position.

JAL plans to carry out a second trial early next year.

The wheelchairs used in the trial were developed by Whill Inc., a startup based in Yokohama.

Whill plans to conduct similar trials overseas this month, including at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in the United States and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

“We hope our products will be a key means of transportation mobility within 1 kilometer indoors and outdoors,” said Satoshi Sugie, founder and chief executive officer of Whill.

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