Panasonic trials begin for autonomous WHILL ‘smartchair’

The WHILL was on show at Naidex earlier this year

An app-controlled version of the WHILL wheelchair, an advanced mobility solution, which is breaking into international markets, is being trialled by Panasonic in Japan ahead of the 2020 Olympics where it will be used to ferry disabled travellers around airports.

Haneda Airport is testing the WHILL NEXT autonomous solution, which will be capable of taking people and even their luggage in a separate wireless vehicle behind them.

Panasonic said: “Using autonomous mobility technology developed for the autonomous delivery robot HOSPI, the wheelchair can identify its own position, select routes and automatically move to destinations input via smartphones. It can travel specifically to shops or boarding gates.”

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Developed in Japan by former Toyota and Nissan engineers, WHILL is a precision-built powerchair that provides greater accessibility through advanced driving capabilities. Each front wheel encompasses 24 ‘rings’ that can rotate sideways so WHILL turns without the need to pivot on a castor hence reducing the turning circle to a mere 71cm.

In the UK, TGA Mobility is the exclusive distributor for the WHILL, which has been developed in Asia. This year, TGA has been searching for retailers to sell the chair, which costs around £12,000.

TGA said it will offer technical training to new partners but will be looking for dealers who are able to provide an exceptional level of service to their customers too.

Earlier this year, Eric Cooper, product manager for TGA, told AMP that the supplier has already found several distributors.

“Our expectation is that because of the type of product it is it will probably take 12 months to establish itself in the UK market. Within our business plan we’ve taken quite a long term perspective of it and the other important thing is that we very much buy into the WHILL brand and philosophy,” said Cooper.

Following on from its success in Japan and America, the WHILL is targeting the lifestyle market as much as the mobility market.

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