The government will compile safety guidelines by March, paving the way for companies to put their latest devices through their paces.
Delivery robots are expected to draw keen interest from badly shorthanded logistics companies needing help in the last mile of delivery -- the difficult final stage of getting a parcel from a nearby distribution hub to its destination -- and from tourists who do not want to drag luggage around.
The mail-handling arm of Japan Post Holdings has tested robots at facilities like public housing complexes and driving schools in Fukushima Prefecture in recent months. Yamato Holdings began trying out unmanned vehicles last year for deliveries in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo.
Testing robots on Japanese public roads currently requires permission from local police chiefs, but a lack of safety rules governing delivery robots leaves the police with no standards on which to base a decision. Running tests can be difficult without such drastic steps as closing streets to general traffic.
The government will lay out safety measures for testing robots that follow human guidance. Would-be testers will generally receive permission if they take the needed safety steps in line with the government's rules and apply for regulatory breaks for up-and-coming businesses. This framework is set to be included in a new growth strategy due out this summer.
Japan's Road Traffic Act is currently interpreted to treat robots as automobiles that can therefore only run on roadways. The government hopes that testing will reveal areas where legislation would need adjusting to unlock the potential benefits to delivery and tourism services.
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