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In Japan, local governments to find new uses for self-driving vehicles

Feb 05. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Japan News-Yomiuri 

The Japanese government plans to begin testing autonomous driving services around the country in fiscal 2020 through partnerships across a wide variety of industries, including logistics, welfare and tourism.

Local governments will be able to make proposals from April and promising programs are to be selected by about June. The central government plans to support the legislation and funding necessary to implement these services.

So far, the main purposes of self-driving experiments have been to reduce traffic congestion in urban areas or to provide means of transportation for elderly people in regional areas. Now, the government wants to support the spread of autonomous driving by combining it with services people use in their daily lives.

Some of the main areas envisioned for the use of self-driving technology are: mobility services through partnerships among the tourism, real estate and other industries; partnerships that combine different mobility services, such as for logistics, nursing care, and commuting to work and school; and mobile retail services.

For instance, residents could use a simple smartphone application to commute to work or school in a self-driving nursing care vehicle, or to have a self-driving bus deliver goods from a supermarket.

These services could be used as a means of transportation in areas with few transport options and to help people who live far away from stores. Nursing care service providers could use self-driving technology to monetize unused time and space.

Some municipalities are conducting independent experiments with a view to expanding the use of self-driving services.

In Kamishihoro, Hokkaido, a self-driving bus both carries passengers and delivers goods from local supermarkets. Users make a reservation or order food and other products from supermarkets on a smartphone app.

The city of Otsu provides services in English for foreign tourists through an application that links self-driving buses with tourist information.

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