Self-driving cars in Japan will hit the roads sooner than their Silicon Valley counterparts as the country aims to offer driverless transport to 50 people in an area near Tokyo starting next year.
Robot Taxi, a company based in Tokyo, said that they are working with authorities in order to start a driverless taxi service next year in an experimental launch. The experiment, which is a collaboration between vehicle-technology developer ZMP and mobile-Internet company DeNA, earned backing from the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The company plans to launch its robotic taxi service as a full commercial venture by 2020 if the experiment stage proves to be successful. The move is to be able to use the service in certain areas that are not reached by public transport. There are also plans to use the service in helping tourists to get around town. More importantly, the service is also seen as beneficial to elderly people as it will help them to get from one place to another without having the need to get a driver.
Robot Taxi's focus on making its services available to the elderly is the company's way of addressing the current situation that the country is facing. With 33 percent of its population belonging to the age bracket of 60 and older, Japan is now the most elderly populated country in the world.
As a result, the government continues to find ways on how it can provide the needed care for its elderly. One of the solutions it offers is developing robots that can handle the leg work.
Robot Taxi said that once the experiment begins, residents will be able to use a driverless taxi when they need to go to the supermarket or other places which are several kilometers away from their homes.
The company added that while the taxis will be driving automatically, an attendant will still be placed behind the driver's seat in case a problem is met along the way.
"This time, the robot taxi experiment will be conducted on actual city streets. I think this is quite amazing," said Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa.
The company added that it also plans to launch a separate experiment in Sendai where they aim to find out how driverless cars can also be used when a natural disaster occurs. A more extensive research project is also planned to be conducted in Nagoya.