Beginning this spring, Japan intends to introduce a limited number of nearly autonomous vehicles onto public roads, opening the door for services like robotaxis and driverless buses.
According to proposals made public this week, the National Police Agency wants to lift a restriction on so-called Level 4 self-driving cars, which can drive themselves in some circumstances.
As local startups make progress in delivering technological roads, Japan makes its move. By fiscal year 2023, Level 4 self-driving buses that are powered by Estonia’s Auve Tech and are backed by SoftBank Group are expected to be on Japanese roadways.
By 2025, 40 areas will have mobility services with Level 4 cars, and more than 100 by 2030, according to the Japanese government.
Boldly CEO Yuki Saji stated, “We plan to have that many projects just on our own”
In Japan’s Fukui prefecture, autonomous electric carts travel down a road. Copyright Kyodo. Working with partners like telecoms KDDI and NTT, another firm, Nagoya-based Tier IV, started a trial of self-driving shuttle buses in February to transport passengers between terminals at Narita Airport near Tokyo.
After a public comment session that will finish in November, specifics regarding Japan’s new regulations for Level 4 cars, including when they will be permitted on roads, will be made available.
The world’s largest search engine, Baidu, received approval to run completely autonomous robotaxis in China for the first time in August. That month, the service was launched in Wuhan and Chongqing.
When necessary, such as in risky driving situations, Level 4 technology is intended to bring vehicles to a safe halt without a driver, in contrast to less-advanced Level 3 technology.
Japanese automakers have varying levels of enthusiasm on the race to Level 4. Although they have conducted research into the technology, Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor have not specified a launch date for vehicles or services that would employ it.
To commercialize this level of self-driving technology, which necessitates costly investments in sensors and software, players with an advantage have faced a difficult road. The Waymo division of Alphabet, the company that owns Google, began development in 2010 with an initial target year of mass production of 2017. But the company has yet to reach that point.
Ford Motor and Volkswagen-backed American firm Argo AI announced its closure on Wednesday. Ford projected Level 4 self-driving technology to be widely adopted by 2021 when it invested in Argo in 2017.
Profitable, completely autonomous vehicles at scale are still in the future, according to Ford CEO Jim Farley.