Tokyo’s Haneda Airport adopts WHILL’s autonomous mobility devices to help practice social distancing

Among countless other unexpected effects, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of all manner of new technologies, as people look for ways to reduce transmission of the virus. Yokohama, Japan-based WHILL has already seen a bit of traction for its autonomous mobility device in the forms of global trials in recent years, and now that the novel coronavirus has become a serious concern, at least one airport is further embracing the tech.

The startup noted this morning that Tokyo’s Haneda Airport will be using the WHILL Autonomous Drive System to help passengers with reduced mobility travel between gates. The implementation is still fairly limited, serving gates three through seven at the world’s fourth busiest airport.

WHILL cites concerns over the spread of COVID-19 as a major factor in the acceleration of the adoption, following 11 trials that have served around 400 passengers since 2019. The addition of autonomous personal mobility vehicles will go some ways toward reducing contact between staff and passengers and hopefully limit the spread of the virus in the process.

“In the With Corona era, we believe services that support mobility while maintaining social distancing will accelerate to replace human labor with robots and autonomous driving technologies.” CEO Satoshi Sugie said in a release. “WHILL wants to provide a safe service that connects the last mile. We look forward to rapidly developing our business in order to help restore a world where people can move around with peace of mind and enjoyment.”

The system operates with a simple tap of the touchscreen, navigating to the destination gate. When the passenger has arrived safely, another tap will return it to its docking station.