Japanese Firms Race to Ready Robo-cars for the Road

Japanese tech firm DeNA is hoping to mix athletics and sci-fi at the 2020 Olympic games by designing robotic taxis that can transport the competitors to their events.

A recent Digital Trends article quoted Hiroshi Nakajima, DeNA general manager of new business development, who said at a recent press conference: “The Olympics are a good opportunity to show Japanese technology to the world.”

The article went on to describe how DeNA and partner ZMP have modified Toyota Prius cars for demonstrations, before detailing their plans to outfit Toyota Estima minivans with similar automated systems for rural areas to help ferry children and the elderly to their destinations. It also mentioned efforts by Uber and Google to develop autonomous automobile programs in other nations.

Other Japanese companies are on the same track, with Hitachi developing a self driving car called the Ropits. The Guardian reported on that Japanese vehicle in March, and also cited Abu Dabi’s unmanned solar powered road shuttles. The Japan Times, meanwhile, reported last week about the University of Missouri’s research into driverless cars in a $10 million testing facility.

But Japanese car enthusiasts are getting more revved up about the race between local firms for robo-car supremacy. While Left Lane News says DeNA’s self driving cars will be ready for the road in 2015, the AFP reports that Nissan plans to leave competitors in the dust with its brand of automated automobiles, which they pledge to have peeling the pavement as soon as next year.

Kyodo News quoted Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who said: “Obviously when you have this kind of technology, you want also the Japanese market to enjoy it as soon as possible.”

However, he said the development of the technology is one only obstacle that stands in the way of robo-cars’ photo finish. He explains: “It’s going to happen step by step, because we need to make sure that the regulators in the different countries feel comfortable…To persuade the regulators that you can take your hands off the wheel or your eyes from the road is going to take a lot of demonstration.”

Image: Flickr

—Kyle Mullin

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