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WHILL brings its autonomous wheelchairs to North American airports

By Jonathan Shieber

After trials in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Abu Dhabi airport earlier this year, WHILL, the developer of autonomous wheelchairs, is bringing its robotic mobility tech to North America.

At airports in Dallas and Winnipeg, travelers with mobility limitations can book a WHILL through Scootaround and test out the company’s products.

Using sensing technologies and automatic brakes, WHILL’s wheelchairs detect and avoid obstacles in busy airports, allowing customers to get to their gate faster.

Based in Yokohama, Japan, WHILL has raised roughly $80 million for its technology to bring autonomy to personal mobility.

“When traveling, checking in, getting through security and to the gate on time is critical to avoid the hassle and frustration of missing a flight,” said Satoshi Sugie, the founder and chief executive of WHILL, in a statement. “Travelers with reduced mobility usually have to wait longer times for an employee to bring them a wheelchair and be pushed to their gate, reducing their flexibility while traveling. We are now providing an opportunity for travelers with reduced mobility to have a sense of independence as they move about the airport and get from point A to point B as smoothly as possible.”

The company is one of a growing number of startups and established technology companies tackling the massive market of assistive technologies.

The entire population of people with disabilities globally stands at 1 billion, and there are 70 million potential customers for assistive technology products across Europe. If demand in human terms isn’t enough to sway would-be entrepreneurs, then perhaps a recent market report indicating that spending on assistive technologies for the elderly and people with disabilities is projected to reach over $26 billion by 2024 will do the trick.

“Accessibility is a priority for Winnipeg Richardson International Airport and travel is now easier for passengers with limited mobility thanks to our partnership with WHILL. We are excited to be one of the first airports in North America to trial WHILL’s autonomous personal mobility devices with our travelers.”

The direct to consumer department store Neighborhood Goods has raised $11 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Neighborhood Goods, the direct to consumer department store hawking brands like Rothy’s, Dollar Shave Club, Buck Mason, Draper James and Stadium Goods, has new cash to expand its storefront for e-commerce juggernauts.

The company has raised $11 million in a new round of financing led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from previous investors Forerunner Ventures, Serena Ventures, NextGen Venture Partners, Allen Exploration, Capital Factory and others.

The Dallas-based startup has raised $25.5 million to date and is expanding into a new location in Austin to complement its stores in Plano, Texas and a location in New York, opening soon, according to the company’s chief executive and co-founder Matt Alexander.

The Neighborhood Goods concept, providing a brick and mortar outlet for online brands, is one that dovetails nicely with backers like Global Founders Capital and Forerunner Ventures, which are both longtime investors in direct to consumer startups.

“As we expand our network of brands, we’re so thrilled to have Neighborhood Goods as a core element of our portfolio for them to test, assess, explore and learn about the impact of physical retail as they grow,” said Global Founders Capital investor Don Stalter.

As the company expands its geographic footprint, it’s also experimenting with different online features, like online browsing of in-store collections and the option for physical, in-store pickup of digital orders. Neighborhood Goods also said it will begin offering an analytics back-end for brand partners to provide data on activations and branded events at the company’s stores.
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