The world’s first autonomous taxi to run on public roads started operating this week in central Tokyo.
The self-driving car makes four return trips on a 5.3km route between the Otemachi district, north of Tokyo Station, and the Roppongi shopping area.
A human driver sits behind the wheel in case of emergencies, but the work is done by the car. Â
With financial support from the city council, the taxi has been developed by local autonomous vehicle firm, ZMP, and is operated by a taxi company, Hinomaru Kotsu.
The aim is to build up to a commercial-scale service by the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
ZMP comments that the aim is to check how well the car’s software handles lane changing and intersections, and right and left turns. A video of the car in operation can be seen here.
The taxi can be booked by smartphone for $13.50, compared with a typical price of $21.50 for a conventional cab.
Hinomaru Kotsu comments on its website that the service is intended to deal with a chronic shortage of human drivers. It adds that, based on the results of the experiment, it will be expanding the destinations covered.
Waymo, the Google autonomous driving subsidiary, is expected to start its own taxi service later this year, and German carmaker Daimler is planning to launch self-driving taxis in partnership with automotive engineering company Bosch in California in 2019.
Chinese company Didi Chuxing has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads, and tech giant Baidu plans to start operating an autonomous bus service.
Image: ZMP’s technology in action (ZMP)