The promotional video for the upcoming Robot Taxi Inc. driverless taxi service.
While the western world continues to trial its driverless cars without any paying customers in them, Japan’s Robot Taxi Inc. is taking the bold step of testing a driverless taxi service in 2016. According to The Wall Street Journal, the service will be offered to around 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture outside of Tokyo, with the driverless cars taking them from their homes to local grocery stores. A human operator will remain in the driver’s seat, just in case there are any hiccups.
In total, the cabs—which will be retrofitted Toyota Estima hybrid minivans—will drive a distance of about three kilometres (two miles), part of which will be on major (likely busy) roads in the city. If the trial goes well, Robot Taxi Inc. hopes to have a commercial service up and running by 2020. Judging by the company’s promotional video, that service will be aimed at an older crowd, rather than early adopters. Initially, the taxis will run routes in places where public transport isn’t readily available, as well as help ferry tourists around.
As Engadget notes, Japan has the world’s highest population of older people, with 33 percent having already celebrated their 60th birthday. The robot taxi service forms part of the country’s efforts to care for this rapidly ageing population, with interesting ideas like Robear, a robotic bear (yes, really) that can help elderly people out of bed, having already been launched.
Interestingly, Robot Taxi Inc. is actually a joint venture between Sony-owned ZMP and DeNA, the same company that’s helping to develop smartphone games for Nintendo. It joins the likes of Google, Tesla, and Nissan, all of which are currently testing driverless cars in the US. In the UK, the government recently released new rules to get self-driving cars onto public roads, which included a stipulation that all testing must be done with a human driver in the car in case of any problems.