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Japanese airport trials 'personal mobility vehicles'

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A Japanese airport has taken delivery of several hi-tech 'wheelchairs', allowing airline staff and security guards to patrol the ticket halls and baggage areas in style.

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Called i-Real, the three-wheeled wonder is described by maker Toyota as a “personal mobility vehicle”.

Four i-Reals have been put into service at Chubu Airport in Tokoname City, where three will be used by security staff. The other will be used by passenger assistance staff.

This last i-Real has been fitted with a medical kit, including a defibrillator, and a PC that passengers can use to check-in for their flights.

On a full charge, an i-Real can keep going for about 30km and reach a maximum speed of around 15km/h. Right- and left-hand levers control movement. Pushing the sticks accelerated i-Real - pulling them back slows it down.

Toyota said that each i-Real’s wheelbase can be shortened when being driven in slow-speed mode so that drivers can more easily manoeuvre the machine around pedestrians.

When driving the wheelchair in high-speed mode, the wheelbase lengthens to provide a lower centre of gravity and better driving performance, Toyota claimed.

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Perimeter monitoring sensors look out for potential collisions, while the “pleasant use of light and sound” on i-Real’s rear alerts those around the machine to its presence, Toyota added.

The i-Real's killer feature, though, has to be its integrated social networking system that allows owners to communicate and create a community with fellow wheelchair drivers nearby. ®

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