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– Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, together with its partners Abu Dhabi Airports and WHILL personal electric vehicle supplier have completed guest trials of their innovative autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport. COURTESY ETIHAD Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: Over 60 guests trialled autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport from December 2-6 for phase two of a pilot project launched in September in association with Etihad Airways and personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL.

Guests with restricted mobility self drove the wheelchairs navigating crowded areas and lounges before arriving at their gate.

Upon completion of their journey the wheelchairs autonomously returned back to their docking station without human intervention.

WHILL autonomous wheelchairs are fitted with sensors that detect obstructions and have an automatic ‘stop’ function, enabling the trial participants to travel around the airport independently of Etihad Airways or Abu Dhabi International Airport staff. During the trial, assistance from porters was on hand to guide guests on the correct usage of the wheelchairs and to provide support whenever required.

Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer of Etihad Aviation Group, said: “The feedback we received from guests who participated in these trials was overwhelmingly positive, and I look forward to the possibility of offering our guests the choice of autonomous wheelchairs in the future. Etihad’s commitment to innovation remains strong, and we’re proud to invest in trials and projects like this, that give our guests a truly unique, seamless and independent experience when travelling with Etihad Airways.”

Ahmad Al Shamisi, Acting Chief Operations Officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, added: “Convenience is one of the most important factors in the traveler experience today. We want to make it even easier for passengers to enjoy our airports with ease. Through these trials, we have shown that restricted mobility passengers and their families can enjoy greater freedom of movement while still ensuring that the technology can be used safely and securely in our facilities.”

Takeshi Ueda, Executive Vice President of WHILL, said, “Partnering with Etihad Airways for the demonstration of the WHILL Autonomous Drive System was a natural fit. Their passion for inclusive innovation aligns with our company vision, and we are excited about what this means for airport terminal experiences in the future. Seeing individuals experience the benefits of the seamless travel experience from security to boarding is so rewarding, and we are eager to translate this experience to airports across the globe.”

Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi International Airport are the first airline and airport in the region to trial an autonomous wheelchair option for guests with restricted mobility, enabling them to move around the airport environment independently.

Intensive mapping and trialing of the wheelchairs will continue over the coming weeks, before a comprehensive evaluation will determine the viability of the wheelchairs in the Midfield Terminal.