Japanese company takes automatic taxi out for test drive ahead of 2020 Olympics

Japanese company takes automatic taxi out for test drive ahead of 2020 Olympics
The self-driving taxi based on a Toyota Estima Hybrid car and operated by Hinomaru Kotsu Co, is seen at the start of its test drive in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 27, 2018.
PHOTO: Reuters

This family in Japan is about to have the ride of their life.

Except they won't be driving themselves, and neither is their chauffeur driving them.

They're travelling in a robot taxi.

"It was just like a normal taxi. Just sitting there, I would have forgotten it was an automatic. The car itself looks just like a normal one," said 45-year-old test drive volunteer Takeshi.

The model has been created by robotics developer ZMP, which has been working with Japanese taxi firm Hinomaru.

"We wanted to help those who don't have transportation. We want people without access to public transportation to have easier access. So this was the idea behind our vision for the automatic taxi," said managing director of ZMP Inc, Mr Akihiro Nishima.

The company's aim is to get the automatic taxis on the streets of Tokyo by the start of the 2020 olympics.

The city's taxi industry is already stressed, with unprecedented levels of tourism and an ageing population.

The average age of Tokyo's taxi drivers is almost 60 and there is a shortage of suitable drivers, according to Hinomaru.

Robot taxis could solve that issue, but it's not without its faults.

The 4.8km test drive was not completely automatic and still needed a driver to control the wheel on some parts of the route.

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