While prestigious companies like Google are working on developing driverless cars, Japan, not to be undone, is launching a driver-less cab service. The experiment is taking place in the Kanagawa prefecture, South West of Tokyo, starting in March 2016.
DeNA, the famous Japanese internet company, is behind this ambitious project, along with a Tokyo robotics company, ZMP. It aims to be in full operation by 2020, for the Tokyo Olympic games. For the time being, the experiment will be implemented at small scale and distances (3km). As the Japanese law requires vehicles to be operated at all times by a person, co-pilots will first be present, ready to take over the car command should anything go awry. After extensive testing and after the law has been changed, the project will go full-scale, in Tokyo.
The car are modified Toyota Estima. To enable “auto-driving”, each car is equipped with GPS, cameras, radars and other sensors. Japan is one of the most innovating countries in the world. Each year, Japan ranks in the Top 3 in the world in terms of number of registered patents. As the automotive and robotic industries are two of Japan's expertise fields, driver-less cars had to focus R&D energies and resources (Nissan is also very much at the cutting edge of that technology). Moreover, in a country of such aging demography, this type of innovation is particularly purposeful. More than 4 million drivers are 75 or older. Once fully ready and operational, driver-less cars will undoubtedly help. Automatic, autonomous cars … the Future is Now in Japan!