Japan to Unleash Self-Driving Taxis in Time for Tokyo 2020 Games

Japanese robotics maker ZMP has partnered with Tokyo cab company Hinomaru Kotsu in an effort to put a fleet of 607 self-driving taxis on the streets of Tokyo in time for the 2020 Olympic Games, reports Reuters.

The Japanese taxi industry, faced with a labor shortage due to a low birth-rate and aging population, must evolve if it is to survive.  Without a fleet of Uber drivers using their own vehicles, Japan, a leader in robotics and an automotive powerhouse by its own accord, will draw on its futuristic economy to solve the transportation shortage befalling the busy country.

ZMP, one of only a handful of startups in Japan that is working to bring autonomous vehicles mainstream, is developing automated driving hardware and software based on laser and stereo cameras, which it eventually wants to sell to transportation companies and automakers.  ZMP has been testing self-driving vehicles–chaperoned by a real human in the driver’s seat–on Tokyo roads since 2016, and hopes to test autonomous cars without no drivers this year.

If all goes according to plan, athletes and other spectators at the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games could find themselves riding in cars with no drivers to get to and from their events.

ZMP has raised 1.5 billion yen ($13.68 million) via third-party distributions of shares to seven other companies, but will need to raise more money if it is to reach its goal.  IPO plans for the robotics maker are still unknown.

Toyota, Japan’s largest automaker, could also enter the autonomous car industry, and has partnered with a small number of other taxi operators to share data on traffic and driving logs.  Given the amount of time left before the Games, the rapid pace of technology, and the work that has already been done to develop self-driving cars in Japan, there is a high likelihood the Olympic Village and areas surrounding the Tokyo 2020 venues will be swarming with vehicles that require no human driver.

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About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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