Nara: Robot shuttle test tour at old palace Share

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yomiuri Shimbun photos A sightseeing robot taxi used in an experiment in Nara City

NARA — A robot shuttle test tour is being conducted every weekend this month at the Heijo Palace Site in Nara City, the nation’s ancient capital in the 8th century, carrying passengers who gathered to request a ride.

The project will give tourists the experience of automated driving and sightseeing guidance using artificial intelligence. The shuttle is automated using GPS.

It takes about 15 minutes to go around the 1 kilometer course, which starts from the front of the Information Center for Reconstruction Project, one of the facilities in the park, before touring around areas such as the Daigokuden hall and the South gate area. The AI provides voice guidance on the Heijo Palace’s history.

The vehicle can automatically slow down and stop if it detects passersby or obstacles.

It is a joint project by three companies based in the Tokyo metropolitan area commissioned by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

A Tokyo-based company, Mopi, was in charge of the AI development. It spent the past two years experimenting with vehicle transportation performance.

“We hope to improve the safety of the system and put it to practical use in the next two years,” said Kyosuke Kawate, a representative of the company.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Nan-mon (South gate) is revealed as construction scaffolding is removed in Nara City on Sept. 28. Daigokuden (Imperial Audience Hall) is seen on the far left.

The Heijo Palace Site Historical Park, where the test tour is taking place, covers an area of about 122 hectares, and many tourists say it is too large to explore on foot.

This system is not only for transportation.

The companies have been considering offering tourists a combination of cutting-edge technology and a history of Nara. For example, it would be technically possible to tour a reproduction of the Heijo-kyo capital as it was in the past using a goggle-type virtual reality terminal.

There is also a plan to tour the village of Asuka, which is dotted with historical spots from an even older period, the 6th century. The tour would become reality if the vehicle is allowed to run on public roads.

The transport ministry and the companies are also aiming to utilize the results of the experiment not only for tourism, but also to help the elderly. In the future, the technology is expected to be a means of transportation in places such as remote islands, mountainous areas and towns with significant aging populations.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Nara prefectural government is also considering operating community buses equipped with automated driving technology. Experiments starting in tourist areas could help expand the applications of the technology to help solve social problems.

Heijo Palace Site

The Heijo Palace Site is the center of the capital Heijo-kyo, which in the year 710 replaced Fujiwara-kyo, also located in present-day Nara Prefecture, as Japan’s capital.

For a long time, the site was almost vacant, but in 1998, the Suzaku-mon (South central gate) was restored, and in 2010, the Daigokuden (Imperial Audience Hall), where important ceremonies were held, was also restored to coincide with the 1,300th anniversary of the relocation of the capital to Heijo-kyo.

The Nan-mon (South gate), which is being restored, is also nearing completion, with the decoration work scheduled to be finished next spring. The three buildings, the Nan-mon, Daigokuden and Suzaku-mon, form a straight line and look magnificent.