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09/27/2019

A future led by MaaS

Autonomous driving tests advance the future of transportation

Serving as ‘living infrastructure’

The so-called robot taxi is regarded as a main product to be created out of combining autonomous driving with MaaS. Its demonstration experiment is ongoing, with an eye to its practical use.

One example is the Easy Ride test by Nissan Motor Corp. and DeNA Co. that was conducted in Yokohama at the end of March 2018 and from February to March this year.

Nissan Motor Corp. and DeNA Co. jointly conducted a demonstration test of a robot taxi in Yokohama.

The experiment saw passengers from the general public ride an autonomous driving car developed from a Nissan electric vehicle. They were able to get off at one of their preferred destinations in the Minatomirai and Kannai areas — home to many famed tourist spots and commercial facilities.

And now, similar efforts have gradually taken on new significance as a means of transportation for locals and as “living infrastructure” in the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Demonstration experiments for the implementation of autonomous driving taxis and delivery robots will soon begin in the town of Namie and the city of Minamisoma, both in Fukushima Prefecture.

To promote the return of residents to disaster affected areas, it’s essential to reconstruct the foundations for shopping and medical services in addition to public transportation networks. These efforts seek to utilize autonomous driving taxis and delivery robots, which are expected to be a mode of transportation for residents and serve as living infrastructure interconnecting ecosystems for logistics, among other services.

In Namie, a test has already moved toward the realization of the practical use of unmanned logistics services. In a January joint experiment of a delivery run conducted by ZMP and Japan Post Co., a robot traveled at a maximum speed of six kilometers per hour between “post offices” and “houses.” The robot checked its surroundings using its 360-degree vision. The ZMP delivery robot played a significant role in this test.

Namie and Minamisoma were selected on June 18 as joint pilot areas for testing among other places and regions under the Smart Mobility Challenge project jointly promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Private-sector firms such as Nissan and DeNA have been collaborating with local municipalities and research institutes for starting commercial operations of taxis and chauffeur services featuring autonomous driving and delivery robots in fiscal 2028. These efforts are expected to contribute to accelerating various advanced initiatives.

There is increasing attention on players who are making further efforts featuring autonomous driving technology with a focus on the practical use of relevant services. This development is worth keeping an eye on.

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