As if there weren’t enough reasons to look forward to the new year, here’s yet another tidbit that will make tech and car lovers alike jump for joy — Japan will be testing robot taxis in Kanagawa, an area just south of Tokyo, with the dawn of 2016. These tests serve as a prologue to the country’s plans for full service by 2020, when these driverless cabs will be shuttling athletes and fans alike throughout the country’s capital during the Summer Olympics. But for now, 50 lucky people will have the privilege of being the first passengers of these historical new automotive innovations, with simple routes bringing Kanagawa locals from their homes to grocery stores, and vice versa.
As per the Wall Street Journal’s report, the robot taxis will travel a total of around two miles and will stick to major roads in the city. To ensure the safety of passengers, crew members will be present at all times during operation, just in case the need for human intervention arises.
Expressing excitement for the possibilities this latest development may bring, Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and a current government executive in his own right, noted, “There are a lot of people who say [self-driving cars are] impossible, but I think this will happen faster than people expect.”
While Japan is known for its (sometimes gimmicky) technology (think robot hotels with dinosaur concierges), this new taxi system is much more than a vanity project. A new ad posted to YouTube just a few days ago shows older members of Japan’s aging community enjoying a taxi ride, capitalizing on the autonomy that this new mode of transportation offers to a significant portion of the country’s demographic.
Despite Japan’s high-tech reputation, it is the most rapidly aging nation on Earth, and over a quarter of the country’s population is over the age of 65. And while driverless taxis won’t make Japan any younger, they can certainly help the older men and women of Japan go about their daily lives with as few disruptions as possible.
So get ready, 2016. Exciting things are happening, and chief among them are robot taxis in Japan.