Lidar-Equipped Autonomous Wheelchairs Roll Out in Singapore and Japan

No more waiting for an orderly to see you out, or an attendant to see you to your gate

3 min read
Photo: Panasonic
The Uber of Wheelchairs: At Haneda Airport in Tokyo, people with disabilities will be able to hail autonomous wheelchairs using a smartphone app that lets them select a destination, sit back, and relax.
Photo: Panasonic

Autonomous vehicles can add anew member to their ranks—the self-driving wheelchair. This summer, two robotic wheelchairs made headlines: one at a Singaporean hospital and another at a Japanese airport.

The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, or SMART, developed the former, first deployed in Singapore’s Changi General Hospital in September 2016, where it successfully navigated the hospital’s hallways. It is the latest in a string of autonomous vehicles made by SMART, including a golf cart, an electric taxi, and most recently, a scooter that zipped more than 100 MIT visitors around on tours in 2016.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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