World First Public Test Drive For Self-Driving Taxis in Tokyo
Paying customers have been transported through the busy streets of Tokyo in what has been billed as a world first public test drive for self-driving taxis.
The autonomous car - developed by Japanese technology firm ZMP and cab company Hinomaru Kotsu - carried three volunteer passengers just over three miles on its maiden voyage between the Otemachi and Roppongi districts.
Sensors were equipped on the minivan-style vehicle to ensure it could traverse safely, although a driver was present just in case direct control was required for trickier portions of the route.
Nonetheless, ZMP and Hinomaru Kotsu are aiming to have an entire fleet of self-driving taxis operating in the Japanese capital in time for the 2020 Olympics.
ZMP managing director Akihiro Nishima said the test was the first to involve driverless taxis and paying passengers, adding: "We want people without access to public transportation to have easier access to it."
One of the passengers on the first test run - who unlocked the doors and paid the 1,500 yen (£10.46) fare via a smartphone app - hailed it as "so natural that I almost forgot it was a self-driving car".
More trials will take place over the next few weeks, with 1,500 people reported to have applied to take part.
Before the end of the year, the two companies behind the initiative are hoping to take the vehicles - dubbed the RoboCar MiniVan - on more ambitious routes connecting Haneda airport and various transport hubs within Tokyo.
Hopes for the project are high, with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government having agreed to partly fund the trials in the hope of ensuring the vehicles are ready for the next Olympics, when an influx of tourists will mean greater demand for public transport.
The tests came just as Japanese car giant Toyota announced it was teaming up with Uber to develop their own self-driving vehicles.
Uber has encountered a series of setbacks in its own efforts to develop the technology and suspended its programme in March when a woman pushing a bike was killed in a collision with a driverless car in Arizona, but the company is hoping to roll-out a pilot programme by 2021 thanks to the $500m (£389m) Toyota investment.
It later emerged a driver inside the vehicle was streaming television until moments before the vehicle hit the pedestrian.
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