Japan to Allow Test of Self-Driving Taxis Ahead of 2020 Olympics

  • Government to recruit 50 residents in Fujisawa to take rides
  • Two co-pilots to accompany city residents on test rides

Japan will allow tests of self-driving taxis on public roads with passengers from next year as the country readies itself to showcase the technology by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The government will work with the Japanese social media and gaming company DeNA Co. to test self-driving cabs in the city of Fujisawa, near Tokyo, according to a government statement released Thursday. Japan will recruit about 50 local residents to take rides, the government said.

Japan’s aim to use the summer Olympics to display cutting-edge technologies is attracting local technology companies to join the race with carmakers, Uber Technologies Inc. and Google Inc. to develop autonomous vehicles. Such cars still face legal hurdles as the country’s Road Traffic Act requires occupants in drivers’ seats.

“We can’t stick to the way we do business here in Japan, which is to unite everyone in the industry and work together,” Shinjiro Koizumi, parliamentary vice minister of the cabinet office, told reporters Thursday at a briefing in Yokohama. “The government should create a competitive environment and welcome everyone to participate.”

Two co-pilots will accompany city residents in test drives during the pilot program, according to the statement. The robot taxis are retrofitted versions of Toyota Motor Corp.’s Estima hybrid minivan.

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