Bridge in Tokyo at night

Tokyo set to welcome driverless cars by 2020

Image credit: Dreamstime

According to the Japanese government’s annual strategic review, a driverless car service could be integrated into the roads of Tokyo in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The draft growth strategy was presented at a meeting by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who explained the government’s proposals to begin testing autonomous car systems on public roads during the 2018 fiscal year, with a view to launching a functional service in time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo in 2020. Japanese automakers are racing to develop autonomous vehicles to show off as sporting fans descend on the city.

Autonomous shuttle buses have been mooted as a possibility for ferrying punters from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to the Olympic village. This service could be commercialised by 2022, the review suggests. The government has stated that it could become available to 100 locations across Japan by 2030.

Meanwhile, the necessary infrastructure for autonomous or remote-controlled buses and trucks could be built by the next fiscal year.

This service is part of a wider economic investment by the Japanese government in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, which could help support businesses and drive growth, in addition to supporting Japan’s ageing population.

“We will promote bold regulatory reform that will serve as the basis for social change,” commented Abe during the meeting.

Reportedly, Japanese companies have been struggling to adopt new technologies into their working practices with the same ease as companies in the US, EU and China. The proposed regulatory changes could help encourage adoption by businesses over the next decade.

According to Reuters, the strategy would also allow for the development by 2022 of virtual power plants – cloud-based, distributed systems which integrate small, sparse power supplies to provide a reliable and cost-effective supply of power over a large area. Virtual power plants already exist in the US, EU and Australia. Another area that will be targeted by the strategy will be AI; the government is expected to adapt regulations to make it easier for universities to provide multi-disciplinary degrees which prepare their graduates for work in AI.

The Summer Olympics, which will begin in Tokyo in July 2020, could also be the showcase for a small, drone-like flying car under development by Toyota. In a promotional video for the vehicle, it is depicted swooping into the stadium and lighting the Olympic flame.

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