Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Self-Driving Pods Improve Mobility

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    Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport

    IATA/ICAO code:
    ATL/KATL

    Country:
    United States

    CEO:
    Balram Bheodari

    Number of passengers :
    75,704,760 (2021)

    Tracks :
    8L/26R – 2743 m (9,000 ft) |8R/26L – 3048 m (9,999 ft) |9L/27R – 3776 m (12,390 ft) |9R/27L – 2743 m (12,390 ft) |10/ 28 – 2,743 m (9,000 ft)

    Terminals:
    Main Terminal | Domestic terminal

Long walks to remote gates at crowded airports can be daunting. This is often impossible for people with reduced mobility, so they rely on airport staff to get them there, either in a wheelchair or by shuttle bus.

Last month, passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) may have glimpsed the future. In collaboration with the airport and Southwest Airlines, Canadian autonomous micro-mobility company A&K Robotics (A&K) tested its self-driving module on the departures level of Concourse C. With more than 100 million passengers passing through the airport every year (pre-COVID), it seems like a logical place to demonstrate what technology can do in crowded areas.

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Founded in 2015, Vancouver-based A&K specializes in advanced navigation systems. Its smart navigation technology requires no external infrastructure and can find its way around moving objects. A&K says its self-contained electric pods are the first in the industry to safely navigate crowded places, such as airports, while avoiding people and obstacles.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world and is looking for new technologies to help people with reduced mobility. Photo: Atlanta Airport

Hailing an autonomous pod at the airport

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the pods are programmed to operate at a moderate walking pace and have sensors to adjust the speed when approaching objects or people to stop, slow down or walk around them. A&K says passengers who need assistance will be able to hail the self-driving pods using a mobile app.

The Atlanta trial used the pods to give people with reduced mobility (PRM) an introduction to how technology can help them get around independently, get to the gate or sightsee airport service points and other amenities. Improving the airport experience for PRMs is increasingly an issue for the airport and the airline they are traveling with. Southwest Airlines operates flights from Concourse C and collaborated on the month-long project.

Internal transport requests at airports usually come from passengers who can walk short distances but find it difficult to travel longer distances. This can be due to a variety of factors, whether it’s age, health, exhaustion, or just needing help on a tough day. Jessica Yip is Chief Operating Officer of A&K and said, “To see our innovation being considered by Atlanta Airport to improve the travel experience for passengers with reduced mobility is exciting. We look forward to working with the Airport Authority and the South West team to bring the best possible experience for PRMs.”

Southwest collaborated in the trial of self-contained self-contained modules at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. Photo: Vincenzo Pace I simply fly

Will ATL take the plunge?

ATL Chief Commercial Officer Jai Ferrell said the airport is looking for advanced mobile robotics solutions to improve its operations. Ferrell believes that A&K has the most advanced autonomous micro-mobility solution for PMR assistance. He added, “This is the first time we’ve tested robots at the starting level, and the results are very impressive.”

“We look forward to expanding testing and possibly adding A&K’s pods to our existing PRM operations, making it easier for our passengers to navigate the airport.”

In December 2019, Etihad Airways (Etihad) launched a trial of self-driving wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). The trial involved Etihad, the airport, IT company SITA and WHILL, a provider of personal electric vehicles. Rather than relying on an airport porter to bring a wheelchair, passengers could use the WHILL self-driving vehicle.

Once the departure details are entered, the self-driving wheelchair heads for the gate using its sensor technology to avoid obstacles. Upon arrival at the boarding gate, the passenger gets off, presses a “return” button and the wheelchair returns to the charging station. Although the trial was declared an exceptional success, it appears that COVID hampered its implementation.

Source: Atlanta Journal

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