DeNA, the Japanese company you might remember as the key collaborator in Nintendo's smartphone efforts, wants to be a player in the transportation game. After announcing initiatives related to self-driving taxis, car-sharing, and parking space-sharing, the company has now detailed plans for an autonomous bus service called Robot Shuttle.
Robot Shuttle is a joint effort with a French company called EasyMile, which is providing the technology and the EZ10 bus itself. DeNA plans to use the buses as a "last mile"-type service that shuttles you from parking places to your eventual destination; Robot Shuttle trials will begin next month at a park adjoining a large mall in Chiba, just outside Tokyo. Hiroshi Nakajima, head of DeNA's automotive division, says he wants to expand the service to the entire mall complex if all goes to plan.
I briefly rode the Robot Shuttle bus at an event in Tokyo yesterday and, well, it didn't crash, but that's about all I can say based on the short, pre-programmed demo. The 12-seater EZ10 does have a cute, friendly design that could go some way to alleviating the inherent weirdness of a driverless bus, but DeNA wasn't demonstrating any obstacle avoidance features or anything like that.
The Robot Shuttle service is only designed for private roads and lands at this point, with current Japanese law prohibiting driverless testing on public highways. That does make it easier to imagine being put into actual use by businesses than more technically ambitious projects, however, and Japan is probably more amenable to the idea of "robot" transportation than most. We'll see how things go next month.