Japanese mobility firm Whill has announced that it has raised US$45mn in its latest round of funding, with the company planning to invest in global expansion
The startup was founded in 2012 by Sugie Satoshi, Junpei Naito, and Muneaki Fukuoka in response to a friend’s qualms about his wheelchair.
As their friend found that using his wheelchair in public made him feel insecure, particularly that he may be perceived as weak or dependent, Whill’s founders sought to design an alternative wheelchair that would feel more empowering to consumers.
Referring to their devices as personal electric vehicles (PEVs), or personal mobility devices (PMDs), Whill’s products are currently available in three variants, the portability-focused Model Ci, the flagship Model A, and the performance-oriented Model M.
Each model is designed to be highly manoeuvrable and powerful, able to take complex terrain at speed and generally improve the user’s sense of control.
In the press release announcing its latest funding injection, Whill outlined plans to continue expanding around the globe, invest in the development of autonomous technology, and revolutionise the Passenger with Reduced Mobility (PRM) services in airports.
Whill said that 20mn passengers at US airports requested wheelchair assistance in 2016, and expects this number to increase significantly as the population ages.
The assistance currently offered requires airline passenger assistants to manually push PRMs around the airport, which Whill considers to be both inefficient and disempowering to the passengers themselves.
Whill said via its press release that it will combat this issue with “self-driving and self-stopping technologies”, thereby reducing the workload of PRM service agents and providing passengers with greater independence.
Sugie, Whill’s CEO, said:
“Through innovative technology and design, we’re giving people greater independence and opportunities to fully participate in society and the activities they love”.
“Our goal is to build a service that can be utilized normally like public transportation”.