The Yomiuri Shimbun
A large-scale self-driving car feasibility test will be carried out on a public road near Haneda Airport in Ota Ward, Tokyo, it has been learned.
According to sources, the feasibility test will be conducted jointly by the central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government, the Ota Ward government and the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association for the purpose of putting to practical use the autonomous driving technology that is expected to help reduce collisions and incidents of wrongly applying the accelerator and brake.
The organisations intend to establish a study group comprising representatives from relevant bodies in the Tokyo metropolitan government building in February, aiming to carry out the feasibility test within fiscal 2018.
In a test area, single- or double-seat "ultra-small mobility vehicles" and "electric carts" equipped with the technology will run alongside ordinary vehicles, in the hope of using the area as a "showcase" for Japan's autonomous driving technology and promoting Japanese technologies to overseas countries.
2020 Games transport
According to the sources, the feasibility test area will be a vacant site measuring about 40 hectares on the southwest side of the airport, which was created as a result of the airport's runway being relocated offshore during expansion.
Using a ward-run road that will be built on the site and Circular Route No. 8, self-driving vehicles will run on the roads along with ordinary cars.
Since the test area is adjacent to the airport's international terminal, "We would like to have the experiments seen by foreign tourists," said a senior official of the ward office.
In Japan, autonomous driving technology is currently at a stage called "Level 2" in relation to driving on expressways.
This means a car is capable of automatically staying in the same lane, maintaining a certain distance between itself and other vehicles and following the vehicle in front of it during a traffic jam, among other functions.
However, when it comes to public roads where it is necessary to detect traffic signals, crossings, pedestrians and other things, the self-driving car technology does not reach "Level 2."
For that reason, in the upcoming feasibility test aiming to realise "Level 2" on public roads, data on traffic information in the experiment area and its surrounding buildings will be collected.
Then, a high-precision 3-D map will be created and a driver will ride in a self-driving car in the area to identify and examine challenges.
Regarding "Level 3," in which a driver operates the car only in emergencies, and "Level 4," which is completely autonomous without the involvement of a driver, it is unclear who would take responsibility for an accident, bear the obligation to help victims or report an accident to the police.
Given this situation, the tests will examine whether it is possible to conduct an experiment using "Level 3" or higher technologies, keeping an eye on the development of future legal systems.
In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, a large number of foreigners are expected to use Haneda Airport.
Therefore, "We'd like to aim to use self-driving cars to transport Olympic athletes and officials between Haneda Airport and the Olympic Village [in Chuo Ward]," said a senior official at the Tokyo metropolitan government.
Similar moves nationwide
Self-driving car feasibility tests have already been conducted across the nation.
In February and March last year, with the co-operation of the central government and the Kanagawa prefectural government, a private company conducted a test in Fujisawa in the prefecture to put into practice a driverless taxi service in which a user reserves a taxi online and a driverless taxi transports the user from the house to a destination.
In Senboku, Akita Prefecture, in November, a driverless self-driving bus without even a driver's seat ran on a 400-meter section of prefectural road.
It was the first case in the nation in which a fully self-driving bus had run on a public road.
The Aichi prefectural government will start a self-driving car feasibility test to monitor and control the vehicles with wireless devices or other means on a public road from fiscal 2017.