I’m not certain what comes to your mind when you read the words “robotic wheelchair” in the headline. Perhaps a normal wheelchair that is pushed by a robot like C3PO, or one that runs on completely on automation (like an R2-D2 wheelchair, if we can extend the Star Wars metaphor).
Actually, this is a concept project from the Saitama University Human and Robot Interaction Center. As you can see from the picture, there is no separate robot doing the pushing, but the wheelchair behind the person in the photo is automated, to some degree.
The wheelchair has a built-in distance sensor and camera system that can track the position of someone in front of them, and follow them. It can also follow someone who is on the side of them, which is easier for conversation.
This robotic wheelchair is definitely handy for temporarily alleviating wheelchair controls, which can be clumsy and awkward at times. It also comes in handy in rest homes and hospitals, where understaffed facilities can lead to one person pushing two wheelchairs at a time. If robotic wheelchairs are used, then it is possible that a train of wheelchairs can follow one person.
I guess this is the future, and I suppose it won’t be long before we see it being used all over. For now, it is still a concept.