Japan’s Robot Taxi unveils driverless cabs for test drive
Hailing a taxi using an app on the mobile phone has become common in many parts of the world. Now you can get a driverless taxi the same way - from booking the vehicle to paying the fare at the end of the trip done through an app.
Japanese technology company Robot Taxi unveiled driverless taxis on Thursday on the sidelines of the G7 summit for a test drive by those attending the meet in Kashiko Island in Mie Prefecture’s Shima city.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a presentation on driverless cars to the leaders attending the summit, and some of them had taken a drive in these vehicles. However, the leaders of Germany and the US, the countries that are in stiff competition with Japan in car manufacturing, didn’t take a ride in the cars, which Japanese officials had later attributed to their busy schedule.
“It is a very interesting project that makes transportation a hassle-free exercise. From reservation to payment, everything is managed with a single app on your smartphone,” Tomoyuki Akiyama, an official with Robot Taxi that plans to launch the service, says.
Robot Taxi is a joint venture between ZMP that develops automated vehicle technology and mobile portal and e-commerce websites provider DeNa Co.
An assistant sits on the driving seat and keeps his hands up to show those who are taking the ride that the car indeed does not need a driver. As traffic laws in Japan deem that all cars must have drivers, the drivers seats cannot be kept vacant.
There is already a race for rolling out driverless cars, involving major firms such as Toyota, Ford, BMW and Google among others.
Ahead of the summit, Japanese car maker Toyota and taxi-hailing service Uber entered into a pact for sharing knowledge and speeding up their respective research efforts. Both firms are keen on driverless cars.
Toyota has been investing in artificial intelligence and robotic technology for rolling out driverless cars. It has plans to invest up to $1 billion in the project till 2020.
Self-driving and driverless cars could be ideal for Japan, one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world. Old drivers are also responsible for many fatal accidents in the country that will have five million people aged 75 and above by this year.
However, a lot of changes are required in traffic rules before these cars can take the roads.
How do robot taxis work:
The mobile app locates the nearest taxi. You can select the pickup location and use the smartphone to open and close the door as well as to pay the fare.
How it drives
The combination of GPS reading, camera images and map data. A wave radar, cameras and laser sensors help the car recognise road marking, elevations, traffic signals and pedestrians. Using all this data, the in-car computer makes all driving decisions and controls the gas pedal and steering wheel.
Since there is no requirement of a driving seat, space can be utilised for other purposes such as working.
The correspondent is in Japan at the invitation of the Japanese foreign ministry