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Japanese companies want autonomous taxis ready in time for 2020 Olympics

Toyota JPN Taxi concept
Several automakers have promised to put self-driving cars on sale by 2020, but some of the first members of the public to experience autonomous driving may be able to do it without buying one.

Japanese tech company DeNA and its partner ZMP hope to put autonomous taxis on the road by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympic Games. Like certain U.S. tech companies, DeNA hopes to diversify its business beyond social media and other online interests to include robotic vehicles, according to Bloomberg.

“The Olympics are a good opportunity to show Japanese technology to the world,” DeNA general manager of new business development Hiroshi Nakajima said at a recent press conference in Tokyo. He said he would like to see self-driving taxis transporting athletes from the Olympic Village to events.

DeNA started out with online auctions in 1999, and subsequently moved on to social media and game development. It announced a partnership with ZMP to develop autonomous cars in 2008.

So far, ZMP has modified Toyota Prius hybrids to create its “RoboCar” demonstration vehicles. It’s also planning a similar conversion for the Toyota Estima, a hybrid minivan sold only in Japan. That will make a better platform for self-driving taxi services aimed at schoolchildren and the elderly in rural areas, the company says.

This Japanese effort isn’t the first one to attempt to combine a ride service with self-driving vehicles. Uber recently opened an autonomous-vehicle lab in concert with Carnegie Mellon University. Google has also expressed interest in ride sharing as an outgrowth of its autonomous-car research program.

If they’re ready in time, self-driving cars won’t be the only cutting-edge automotive tech to be showcased at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Toyota is already a major sponsor, and plans to use the games to promote its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car. The Japanese national government and the city of Tokyo are also planning to increase the country’s hydrogen fueling infrastructure and put more fuel-cell vehicles on the road in time for the games.

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