Japan is no stranger to the robot so the announcement it will be running full trials of a robotic taxi service in 2016 comes as no surprise. The unmanned service will run courtesy of Robot Taxi Inc and will serve rides to Kanagawa – a small prefecture south of Tokyo.
The service will be deployed to a group of around 50 residents with the intention to ferry folk from homes to local grocery stores and places where public transport is inaccessible, which is something it is aiming to help improve the lives of less-mobile elderly citizens. The cars will drive around three kilometres per journey and will also be tasked to drive on main roads with other human users.
To ensure the trial goes smoothly there will be a 'driver' sitting in the front seat during journeys to ensure nothing goes wrong. They won't be doing anything however unless the robot car has a bit of a bad day. If all is successful the aim is to roll out Robot Taxi as a full commercial service and useful tool for tourists in more towns and cities by 2020 – just in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The UK's first driverless vehicles were unveiled in September 2015 in Milton Keynes as the electric LUTZ Pathfinder pods were finally unveiled and ran out in trials. The pods will be used in pedestrianised areas and serve to act as another means of public transport. The Netherlands also has its own self-driving electric shuttle in the form of the WEpod, which takes passengers between towns at a top speed of 25mph and will employ radar, GPS and laser sensors to keep it on track.
The race for the autonomous vehicle is also joined by the likes of Google and many major car manufacturers in an industry that is estimated to be worth over £900bn a year by 2025.