Autonomous Taxi Trials Begin in Tokyo Ahead of the 2020 Olympics

The realization of driverless taxis in Tokyo is even closer as trials take place in Japan

Taxi on a street
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Tokyo saw the beginning of a series of driverless taxi trials. ZMP, a developer of autonomous driving technology, and taxi company, Hinomaru Kotsu, are currently leading the way in the race to provide a driverless taxi service. The partnership claims that these road tests are the first in the world to involve an autonomous taxi and fare-paying passengers.

The experiment, which is partially funded by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, uses two Toyota Estima minivans to ferry its passengers through the capital. The vehicles are fitted with sensors, lidar, radar and cameras to ensure the vehicles can negotiate the busy city streets of Tokyo.

Out on the Tokyo Streets

The driverless taxis made four round-trip journeys a day on a busy stretch of road, picking up paying passengers along the way. The trials continued through to September 8th between commercial facilities in Tokyo’s Otemachi and Roppongi districts, which are around 5.3km apart.

These road tests are the first in the world to involve an autonomous taxi and fare-paying passengers

The technology being tested will start, stop and turn the vehicle by itself. However, while the minivans can operate unmanned, a driver and an assistant will be on board at all times during the trial to ensure the safety of the passengers. Unlike current taxis in Japan where the doors open automatically, passengers traveling in these driverless vehicles have to open the doors themselves. Payment for the service will be made using a smartphone app, the cost of which is 1,500 yen for a one-way journey.

So far, the trial has been a success and should be ready to transport athletes and tourists between the city center and sports venues by the time the Olympics roll round. The excitement surrounding driverless taxis is obvious with some 1,500 people having applied for the opportunity to take part as passengers in the trials.

ZMP and Hinomaru Taxis want to extend their service to provide transportation from Haneda Airport to the city’s transport hubs, as well.

Not the only contenders in the autonomous taxi race

Toyota and Uber have recently announced that they are upping their efforts to develop autonomous vehicles with Toyota to invest $500m in Uber’s driverless-car fleet. The partnership will use Toyota’s Sienna minivans to test its driverless technology, which is expected to be in use within Uber’s ride-hailing network from 2021.

Autonomous driving services are necessary in Japan to make up for the lack of drivers due to the country’s graying population. Such services will be particularly beneficial in rural areas where taxi firms are already facing major labor shortages. However, there is a lot of work still to do to guarantee the reliability and safety of autonomous vehicles.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Autonomous taxi services could be the new normal in the not-so-distant future. 

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and Journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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