It is history in the making, the world's first autonomous taxi will be operating in central Tokyo today, August 27, 2018. Although other autonomous taxis are on the roads, this is the first with paying customers.
The vehicle, developed by Tokyo-based robot maker ZMP and operated by taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu, ferries passengers along a set 3.29 mile route starting near Tokyo Station and ending in the Roppongi entertainment district.
For the time being, the taxi makes only four return trips per day and reservations have to be made online. The trip costs 1,500 yen ($13.5) one way and passengers use a smartphone app to get their trip started. The two companies hope to begin full commercial operations in 2020, when the city hosts the Summer Olympics.
The pilot project is partly financed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and will run through Sept. 8
Autonomous vehicles will reduce the cost of taxi services and make them more widely available, according to ZMP. Demand is expected to rise with the influx of tourists during the games. Inexpensive taxis can also help deal with shortages of public transportation in remote areas, the company claims.
The taxi operates fully autonomously -- turning, changing lanes and stopping on its own -- though a driver sits behind the wheel in case of emergency.
"It was as comfortable as riding a regular taxi," said a passenger who tried the service with his wife and a child on Monday. "It changes lanes so smoothly that you almost forgot that you were in an autonomous car."
While the project marks a world-first in the development of smart mobility, companies in other countries have made greater progress in terms of testing autonomous vehicles.
NuTonomy, an autonomous taxi startup, has been working with the Singapore government in developing self-driving technology for quite some time now. The cars, mostly Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars, are debuting in the (primarily tech) business district area, one-north. The cars will be loading and unloading at specific points in the district, and the rides are “invite-only”—for now. All rides are free during the trial run.
Uber and Waymo, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, have been testing self-driving cars in cities across the U.S. In March, an Uber-operated car struck and killed a pedestrian during a trial, illustrating the challenges facing the technology. Waymo is expected to start its taxi service later this year.
German carmaker Daimler is also planning to launch self-driving taxis in partnership with automotive engineering company Bosch in California next year.
Various developments have also been made in China. Ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads, while search engine Baidu plans to start operating an autonomous bus service in the country. It is working with SoftBank Group subsidiary SB Drive to take the service to Japan next year.
(2018). Nikkei Staff Writer. "World's first autonomous taxi starts operating in Tokyo". Retrieved from https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Business-Trends/World-s-first-autonomous-taxi-starts-operating-in-Tokyo,