Forget Self-Driving Cars. Self-Driving Chairs Have Arrived
In recent weeks, Uber launched autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, Tesla updated its autopilot software and researchers in Amsterdam announced an initiative to explore driverless boats. And now, Nissan offers the world self-driving chairs.
The Japanese automaker unveiled a high-tech, battery-powered autonomous chair it says is designed to make waiting in line "easy and fun." The ProPilot chair transports passengers along fixed paths without any instruction from the user.
The ProPilot chair "drives" on a predetermined path. The chair's embedded cameras detect distance to the chair ahead of it. When one chair moves, the next one follows, maintaining a fixed distance. When the passenger reaches the front of the line and stands up, a weight sensor notices and the chair automatically navigates to the back of the line, Nissan says.
Nissan's promotional video demonstrates the ProPilot chairs queueing customers outside of a busy restaurant, scooting patrons through a museum, and carrying a group of comfortably seated passengers on a lazy turn around a park.
Reactions on social media thus far range from somewhat enthusiastic to apathetic, with some Twitter users drawing comparisons to the laziness-enabling floating lounge chairs from the Disney-Pixar movie Wall-E.
However, for Nissan, the chair offers a chance to show off technology used by its newest line of semi-autonomous minivans.
Nissan first ventured into the world of autonomous chairs earlier this year by adapting its intelligent park assist technology into an "Intelligent Parking Chair." Designed to eliminate the tedious task of arranging office chairs, these clever chairs roll themselves to predetermined positions in response to hand clapping.
Technology designed to make the wait in line and visiting museums easier could provide benefits in places with aging populations, such as Japan.
Nissan has encouraged restaurants across Japan to apply to test the ProPilot chair and promises that the selected restaurants will have ProPilot chairs shuffling patrons through queues next year.
So when your knees start to ache from standing in that endless brunch line this Sunday, have confidence that soon you may be able to sit back, relax, and let a chair do the legwork.
Maria Hollenhorst is an NPR business desk intern.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.