Forget the little train, Japan has come up with a little taxi that could transport tourists around the streets of Japan using robot drivers.
Road tests for these self-driving cars will commence next year in Kanagawa prefecture, located south of Tokyo. The first customers will not be tech-savvy millenials, but instead, senior citizens and people with no access to public transportation will be the target demographic of this service. In the road test, 50 people will be transported from their respective homes to grocery stores, in trips of two miles each. A Robot Taxi employee will be on board each vehicle, as a safety precaution.
In Sept. 2015, there were over 60,000 citizens in Japan aged 100 and up. To date, a quarter of the country is at least 65 years old. This means that one in every three people are at least 65, and that one in every five people are at least 75.
Japanese tech company DeNa sees this demand, and banks on it. Their goal is to have autonomous cars transporting tourists around the streets of Japan within the next five years.
DeNA is an Asian powerhouse with a net worth of over $1 billion. This mobile gaming company recently branched out into new technologies, including digital payments and gene testing. DeNA now owns a pro baseball team. Its next challenge? The Robot Taxi.
"Cars today are like feature phones in the 2000s, and we believe we can help them evolve quicker. The automotive industry is vast, and their focus is finally shifting from hardware to software and [mobile network]. We see a huge opportunity there," says DeNA global press rep Tomoyuki Akiyama.
DeNA is partnering with Tokyo robotics startup company ZMP. ZMP says that Robot Taxi uses lidar sensors and image-recognition cameras to measure distances between objects such as traffic lights and pedestrians using laser beams. This mechanism is similar to that of Google's cars.
Robot Taxi's new promo video is a portrayal of Japan, five years from now, when cars are part of the community and are something that residents can rely on. It targets members of society who are unable to drive, but still want to be active in the community.