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Sony takes on ride-hailing in Japan as Uber looks for partners

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Uber commands less than 1 percent of the local market

Japan Ahead Of Consumption Tax Increase Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Sony says it’s partnering with Daiwa Motor Transportation and five other local taxi companies in Japan to build a new taxi-hailing system to match drivers with riders via a mobile app, similar to how Uber and countless others manage their ride-sharing services. Sony, however, plans to use AI to better predict demand to dispatch taxis more efficiently, says Nikkei, by factoring in traffic, ride histories, weather, and local events. Sony has previously implemented its AI technology in products like its Aibo robot dog.

Sony aims to launch the new venture in spring alongside a new payment service. The six taxi companies (Green Cab, International Motor, Kusumi Transportation, Checker Cab Radio Cooperative Association, Hinomaruku Transporation, and Daiwa Motor) have a combined fleet of 10,000 cabs in the Greater Tokyo Area. Sony says it’s working on creating a platform that will allow other taxi operators to participate as well.

Sony’s push comes at the same time that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who is currently in Tokyo, is attempting to make new inroads into the Japanese market. “It’s clear to me that we need to come in with partnership in mind, and in particular a partnership with the taxi industry here, which actually has a very, very strong product,” Khosrowshahi said, according to Bloomberg. “But that product hasn’t kept up with technological change.”

Japan’s taxi market is worth $16 billion, and Uber commands less than 1 percent of it. The ride hailing space is getting increasingly crowded: popular messaging app Line has previously launched a taxi service in Tokyo while in February, Toyota also announced a 7.5 billion yen ($70 million) investment into JapanTaxi, a cab-hailing app. Toyota has also previously invested in Uber.