Nissan takes on Uber: self-driving taxi trial launched in Japan
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
Nissan's self-driving taxi service is ready for its first passengers.
The firm will begin testing the service, dubbed 'Easy Ride', in Japan next week ahead of launching it commercially in 2020.
Working alongside Tokyo-based mobile developer DeNA, the service will ferry passengers around a 2.8 mile stretch of Yokohama.
Nissan has admitted the technology is not perfect and the cars would crash without occasional human intervention.
However, the latest development is a challenge to ride-hailing companies such as Uber who are hoping to develop their own driverless taxi service.
Three hundred people have signed up to try out Easy Ride in order to fine-tune what Nissan is calling a 'robo-vehicle mobility service' app.
The service was developed in a partnership, which began last year, with Japanese mobile game provider DeNA.
DeNA has been working on driverless bus and delivery services in Japan.
For now, the semi autonomous cars will be limited to a fixed route which includes going through a shopping mall area in this Japanese port city.
'I think the potential is quite large in the long term, especially in large cities such as Tokyo or Boston, where there is a need for point-to-point transit but little incentive to own cars,' said Nicholas Evans, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
For Easy Ride, users first download a special app on their cellphones.
The app is only in Japanese, but there are plans to offer it in several languages for tourists and other travellers.
After logging on, voice recognition is used to set a destination, and the date and time for when the ride picks you up at one of four possible spots in Yokohama.
Once in the back seat of the vehicle, a display shows your route on a digital map. It also recommends events such as concerts, historical landmarks, restaurants and other places to visit, which pop up as photos and text on the display.
The service also includes coupons that can be downloaded and used at those spots.
Like other autonomous technology, the Easy Ride vehicle is packed with cameras, sensors and radars to recognise pedestrians, intersections, traffic lights and other vehicles.
Although it is capable of driving itself, Japanese law doesn't allow for completely self-driving cars so a member of Nissan staff will be in the drivers seat at all times.
Nissan has already confessed that the system isn't perfect and humans have and will continue to be needed to step in to avoid a crash.
Several companies, including Google's Waymo and Tesla's Autopilot are also developing autonomous vehicle technology.
Outside of the American tech companies, just about all the major automakers, including Mercedes and Toyota, are developing self-driving cars.
Uber has tried to roll out its own self-driving taxi in the US.
In November, the company struck a deal to buy up to 24,000 autonomous cars from Volvo.
Nissan has been one of the leaders and advocates for driverless cars in the industry.
Although opinion is divided on the projection that as many as 10 million driverless cars will be on roads by 2020, everyone agrees the technology is going to grow.
Professor Evans cautioned: 'In introducing technology, all it takes is for a couple of high-profile accidents for consumers to turn against manufacturers.
'It's in the self-interest of manufacturers for rigorous testing and public input on this new kind of technology,' said Evans, who studies the ethical dilemmas posed by emerging technologies such as drones and self-driving vehicles.
Easy Ride is still experimental, but future uses Nissan envisions include parents using it to pick up their children and tourists using it to easily find their way around.
Some glitches remain.
In a recent demonstration for reporters, the app had problems launching because of a poor net connection at Nissan headquarters.
When a reporter said, 'I want to eat a burger,' it successfully recommended several nearby joints.
But it was not able to find the nearest New Balance store, or any other place to buy sneakers.
- Daily Mail