Robot Taxi to test driverless cars on the roads of Japan


When tourists flock to Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020, they could find themselves being whisked from place to place in unmanned taxis. An experiment helmed by Robot Taxi will begin next year, and the technology could become fully commercial in time for the great sporting event.

The test project will start out with 50 residents of Fujisawa city, located in the Kanagawa Prefecture. The test passengers will use the driverless taxis to commute between their homes and grocery stores on the city’s main roads, for distances of about 3 kilometres. The system uses GPS, millimeter-wave radar, stereo vision cameras, and image analysis to maneuver around safely. During the trial, there will be supervisors in the taxis, in case human intervention is required to avoid accidents.

Robot Taxi is a joint venture between ZMP, a specialist in automated vehicle technology, and Dena, a mobile internet company. The company joins the likes of global brands – like Google, BMW and Ford – in the race to put driverless vehicles on the roads. When it announced the trial at a ceremony in Yokohama, Shinjiro Koizumi, a vice minister in the current government and the son of former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was in attendance. Shinjiro said,  “There are a lot of people who say it’s impossible…but I think this will happen faster than people expect.”

Indeed, Japan is already late to the game. Foreign rivals – Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Ford, for instance – have already included all sorts of autonomous driving features in new models, and Google has already started testing self-driving cars on public roads in the USA. Toyota did announce an upcoming safety device, which could communicate information between vehicles and road infrastructures…so the car could actually detect a red light and, if the driver doesn’t respond, force the vehicle to stop.

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