Abu Dhabi Airports, Etihad launch trial of autonomous wheelchairs

The autonomous wheelchairs will allow passengers with restricted mobility to navigate easier through the Abu Dhabi airport

A new trial of autonomous wheelchairs has been launched at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, it was announced on Monday.

The autonomous wheelchairs will allow passengers with restricted mobility to navigate easier through the Abu Dhabi airport, without the need for assistance from a member of staff, a statement said.

The wheelchair features sensors to detect obstructions, providing an automatic ‘stop’ function. Future features in the pipeline include real-time gate and boarding time updates for guests.

The new technology will be available at facilities for passengers arriving to, departing from, or transiting through the airport.

Trials will take place throughout the remainder of 2019, and will map the airport to ensure that passengers can use the new technology effectively upon its official introduction.

The final stage of the trial will involve passengers with restricted mobility self-driving the wheelchairs through the airport. On arrival at the gate, the wheelchairs will have the capability to return themselves to the collection point without staff involvement.

Porters will remain available to provide wheelchair access to passengers who require mobility assistance.

The new technology is the first of its kind to be used by an airport within the region, the statement said.

The trial is being conducted by Abu Dhabi Airports in partnership with Etihad Airways and in collaboration with aviation tech company SITA and electric vehicle supplier WHILL.

Etihad said it is also exploring other technologies that can ease travelling for those with other visual and hearing impairments.

Bryan Thompson, CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports said: “With the beginning of these trials, we hope to be able allow restricted mobility passengers and their families freedom of movement around Abu Dhabi International Airport.”

Abdulwahid Amiri, acting senior vice president of Technology at Abu Dhabi Airports, added: “We continue to invest heavily in digitalisation and new technologies at our airports.”

The trial comes ahead of the introduction of the autonomous wheelchairs at the new Midfield Terminal.

Abu Dhabi’s Dhs10bn Midfield Terminal is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2019. The exact date of opening has not yet been revealed.

Spanning 742,000 square metres, the terminal will be able to handle more than 8,500 people per hour and will increase the airport’s capacity to 45 million passengers a year.

The terminal, which will be one of the region’s largest, will also have a baggage handling system that can process almost half a million bags a day.

Read: Trials begin at Abu Dhabi’s new Midfield Terminal ahead of expected opening this year