Just a few days after the dark news on autonomous driving, a fatal accident with a Tesla car, there are good news on the same topic from Japan. Mobile gaming company DeNA teams up with NTT DoCoMo to provide a driverless shuttle bus at Makuhari Aeon shopping mall near Tokyo. The service, scheduled to be launched in August 2016, uses vehicles of the type EZ10 developed by the French startup EasyMile. These are the same vehicles also operated in Lausanne, at the EPFL CityMobile2 project. EZ10 is an electric shuttle bus which can transport up to twelve people (six for now) at the same time. Although it could run at a speed of up to 40km/h, it usually does not exceed 10-20km/h for safety reasons. Four sensors at the low corners especially checking for obstacles and an emergency button within the bus ensure immediate halt in case needed.
Unlike autonomous vehicles developed by car makers which depend on sensors and cameras, the “Robot Shuttle” runs using DoCoMo’s mobile communication network combined with DeNA’s network and data processing technologies originating in mobile gaming. Data transmission has to run smoothly at high-speed in order to avoid any accidents. DoCoMo is currently working on the next generation mobile communications network G5, which should be widely used by 2020 and run 100x faster than current networks.
Although legislation concerning autonomous driving in Japan is still very restrictive, DeNA and DoCoMo are planning tests on public streets in southern Fukuoka. However, as this involves also communication with other vehicles and the road infrastructure, the technology first needs to be advanced further.