The Yomiuri Shimbun SB Drive Corp. began the nation’s first tests of a self-driving bus with no steering wheel on a public road, taking members of the media along for a ride in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday.
The SoftBank Group Corp. affiliate aims to implement the system in fiscal 2020 to provide driverless transport services in areas where transportation is lacking due to depopulation or a shortage of bus drivers.
The test used the Navya Arma, a vehicle developed by France’s Navya SA.
The Navya Arma, marketed as an unmanned self-driving bus, has no driver’s seat or steering wheel. It can be remotely operated in the event of an emergency.
For the tests, the vehicle drives at speeds of up to 15 kph for about 300 meters on a public road encircling a park in the urban area.
GPS is used to determine the position of the bus, and a high-performance sensor at the front of the vehicle detects obstacles on the road ahead.
The bus finished its test run without a hitch on Wednesday. It automatically stopped when it detected a pedestrian and oncoming car, and accelerated again after confirming the coast was clear.
As safety precautions, a remote system monitored the operation and a driver with a remote control accompanied the media on board.
“Personnel costs can be reduced because you don’t need a driver, making it possible to introduce the system in sparsely populated areas at low cost,” said Yuki Saji, president and chief executive officer of SB Drive. “I want to make it an everyday means of local transportation.”