Toyota to Launch Japan’s First Fully Automated Driving Service on Public Roads Starting in Odaiba, Tokyo, This Summer
21:00 JST, February 11, 2024
Toyota Motor Corp. will begin a self-driving transportation service in Odaiba, Tokyo, this summer using the technology of Level 4 autonomous driving — automated driving under certain conditions — with the aim of starting a driverless robotaxi business in the future, sources said.
The current service will operate free of charge within an area 1.5 square kilometers around the new arena that Toyota and other entities are currently constructing in Odaiba, and from 2025 the company plans to switch to a paid service and expand its range to other districts of central Tokyo. It is likely to be Japan’s first automated driving service on public roads with other vehicles.
The service will be provided in cooperation with Monet Technologies Inc., a company jointly funded by Toyota and SoftBank Corp., utilizing a self-driving system from U.S. startup May Mobility. Since the autumn of 2023, Toyota has discussed the service, its operation routes and other details with the transport ministry, the industry ministry, the National Police Agency and the Tokyo Metropolitan government.
The vehicle used for the service will be based on the Toyota minivan Sienna and equipped with a danger prediction system using sensors and artificial intelligence to monitor the road and surrounding conditions. It can run fully autonomously without a driver, but for safety reasons the company plans to have a driver ride along temporarily.
The service, which will begin this summer and be provided free of charge, will have several vehicles operating during daytime hours between two designated locations in Odaiba. Passengers can only get in and out of the car at limited places, such as the porch of the facility.
Toyota will use the free service to examine safety and profitability. From 2025, the company will gradually expand the service to other central Tokyo areas and consider adding a fee. The company plans to eventually work with a ride-hailing service company to make it possible to hail a vehicle to specific locations, like a taxi.
Self-driving is considered the core of next-generation technology like other elements of so-called CASE, an acronym for connected, autonomous, shared and electric. Automakers and technology companies around the world have been competing with each other to develop the technology. Toyota hopes to improve its autonomous driving technology and deepen society’s understanding of it by overtaking of other companies in Japan to roll out self-driving services on public roads. The firm also plans to develop its map data, which is indispensable in automated driving.
The taxi industry is facing a serious labor shortage nationwide. The government plans to lift its ban on ride-sharing services from April, allowing ordinary drivers to use their private cars to transport passengers for a fee. Robotaxis, which do not require a driver, are also seen as an effective means of resolving the driver shortage. Toyota’s trial is expected to promote the full-scale spread of autonomous driving services.
Japan lags behind the United States and China in providing automated taxis services. The government plans to give its full support to promote widespread use of the technology.
Toyota’s new service is likely to replace traditional taxi and bus services.
In collaboration with U.S. General Motors and others, Honda Motor Co. is also preparing to launch a similar service in January 2026 in central Tokyo, mainly in the Odaiba district.
Robotaxis are expected to become a new means of transportation linking Toyota Arena Tokyo, scheduled to open in autumn of 2025, with Yurikamome’s Aomi, and Ariake Station with the Ariake Garden, a large-scale commercial facility.
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