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Driverless car (photo: ZMP)

Driverless taxis in Tokyo ahead of Olympics

A self-driving minivan equipped with sensors made four round-trips a day this week along a busy road.

Raising the prospect that taxis without drivers will be carrying locals and tourists through the streets of Tokyo in time for the 2020 Olympics, a trial has successfully picked up paying passengers on a busy road and taken them to their destinations.

A self-driving minivan equipped with sensors made four round-trips a day this week, the Guardian newspaper reports.

Autonomous driving technology developer ZMP worked on the road tests with the taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu. They claim that the tests are the first in the world with driverless taxis and fare-paying passengers.

The journeys were on a busy five-kilometre stretch of road between the districts of Otemachi and Roppongi, local news reports say. The passengers pay their fare via a smartphone app.

More than 1,500 people have applied to be passengers for the 96 journeys planned, which will run until early September.

One passenger described the trip as “so natural that I almost forgot it was a self-driving car”.

Airport transfers
The companies have said that they hope the technology will be available to the public in time for the Tokyo Games. They will conduct follow-up tests later this year, connecting Haneda airport and the city centre.

Japan is an ideal market for self-driving vehicles, as it is a rapidly ageing society, increasingly shortage of drivers in rural areas and having to deal with a rise in the number of accidents involving older motorists.

Similar trials to the ones this week are being conducted with Toyota and Uber, and also with Nissan and the tech firm DeNa, which has also worked with ZMP.

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