Japanese officials have greenlit an experiment to roll out driverless taxis in 2016, with the aim of commercial availability by 2020. The pilot will be offered to about 50 people in the Kanagawa region south of Tokyo.
This is an extraordinarily bold move that could upset the current fight over taxis, self-driving cars, and Silicon Valley. In America, the major players involved in competing with the taxi industry have also spent the most pushing the frontier of self-driving cars. Tech titans Google and Uber have invested millions in robotic driving research.
Even more interesting, Japan’s self-driving taxi experiment is even more advanced than the services available to San Franciscans. Google has limited authority to test its adorable self-driving vehicles on public roads, and the services aren’t available to the public. Google is currently eyeing select cities around the country to test the safety and reliability of their car system.
So, in comparison, Japan’s experiment could be way ahead of the U.S. First, the government has permitted taxis themselves to become self-driving. Thus, the very industry that may fight self-driving cars in the US is the first adopter in Japan. Moreover, it’ll be available on public roads, performing routine trips (like to the grocery store).
Thanks to the Japanese government’s progressive policies, other countries could now give the U.S. competition in the race to make self-driving cars commercially available to the public.