Nissan begins field tests of its Easy Ride driverless robo-taxi in Japan

Beginning March 5, residents in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama will be able to travel through the city in a driverless robo-taxi called “Easy Ride.” The field test will include pre-registered participants along a set route between Nissan’s global headquarters and a nearby shopping center.

All the Nissan Leaf cars in the test will be remotely monitored for safety. Presumably, a human operator would be able to step in and control the vehicle should something unexpected happen.

The joint venture between Nissan and DeNA will provide an opportunity to test out various services during the ride. Customers can request destinations via voice commands or text messages, and a tablet display in the car will show recommendations for nearly 500 places of interest, such as restaurants in the area. Riders can also download discount coupons from nearby vendors directly to their phones.

Easy Ride is meant to be an upscale service, akin to a concierge on wheels, a Nissan executive told Reuters. “We realize that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, but we want to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are experts in the field,” said chief executive Hiroto Saikawa.

In partnering with DeNA, Nissan can utilize one of the world’s biggest social gaming networks. The company has experience developing user interfaces as well as payment systems. With 30 million users, DeNA already operates a user-sourced car-sharing app.

The company has also worked on a self-driving taxi system before joining with Nissan, and has been testing self-driving shuttle buses in Japan

In a video showcasing the new technology, Easy Ride is used by a variety of passengers, from bilingual hipster tourists to children on their way home from school. At one point, a customer stops at a bakery, but there’s no parking. He simply sets a timer on his phone and the car cruises the neighborhood while he browses the shop, returning after 10 minutes to pick him up.

Customers will fill out a survey afterwards rating their experience and suggestions for pricing.

Although this first field test only lasts a few weeks, Nissan has been working on the Easy Ride service since last year, and hopes to have its self-driving taxi service fully operational by 2020. That’s when the Summer Olympics come to town, offering a worldwide audience and tourists from all over the globe.