TAXI FIRM Hinomaru Kotsu Co and autonomous driving system start-up ZMP Inc started testing a self-driving taxi service carrying passengers for a fee on public roads in Tokyo on Monday.
The trial service, which the companies said is the first of its kind in the world, is aimed at resolving the shortage of taxi drivers. The companies will verify the safety and business potential of the service during the tests, with an eye on launching a full service in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held.
The tests are being held on about five kilometers of public roads in the Otemachi and Roppongi districts of Tokyo through Sept. 8.
Passengers who applied to take part in the trial can take four round-trips a day with single fares costing 1,500 yen (about $13).
The minivan being used in the trial is equipped with such devices as onboard |cameras. The car can recognise traffic lanes and signals, and automatically stops, starts and turns left or right to change lanes. The door can also be opened using a smartphone app.
In case of an emergency, Hinomaru Kotsu employees sit in the driver and front passenger seats, so that a human driver can take manual control of the car if needed.
The first day of testing was fairly smooth, according to the companies. The car stopped at a red light leaving enough room for the car ahead, it accelerated slowly, and kept a certain distance between cars, they said.
“It felt as if the car was being operated by a human driver. It was smoother than I had imagined,” said one passenger, a self-employed man from Tokyo.
Autonomous vehicles need highly accurate map data, including road width and signal locations, preloaded into their systems, so the introduction of self-driving technology is expected to be seen in commercial cars, which run in limited areas, before private passenger vehicles.