“I tensed up when the taxi switched to automatic driving mode,” said Kumiko Shimauchi, the 41-year-old head of a supermarket. “But the change was so seamless I had no idea exactly when the switch took place.”
The trials, which will continue until mid-March, are taking place in a National Strategic Special Zone to test the autonomous vehicles in hopes of putting them to work during the Summer Games.
The self-driving taxis also are expected to see service providing rides to residents living in remote areas where buses and other means of public transportation are in decline due to aging and shrinking local populations.
They are the first such tests in the nation to take place on public roads.
The tests are being conducted by Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture established by major information technology firm DeNA Co. and Tokyo-based ZMP Inc., a start-up company developing autonomous driving technology.
Robot Taxi will be testing its automated driving technology, dispatch systems and other features vital in running robotic cabs over the course of two weeks during the trials.
During the trial run on 29 Feb, a dispatch order was placed online by a couple living in Fujisawa who acted as monitors for the project. The cab was quickly dispatched to pick up the couple.
The taxi was operated by a driver as it drove through residential neighborhoods, but once it got out to the main streets, it smoothly glided into automatic driving mode.
The robotic cab successfully negotiated its way to a supermarket and back for a total distance of 4 kilometers.
Robot Taxi strongly believes that putting automated taxis to practical use will help significantly cut personnel costs, allowing cab operators to reduce fares.
“We hope to establish a service that assists those who need extra help getting around,” said Hiroshi Nakajima, the 37-year-old president and CEO of Robot Taxi.
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