Will These New Self-Driving Shuttle Buses Help the Elderly in Japan’s Rural Areas?

  • The population in Japan is, no doubt, continuously shrinking. This is especially true in rural communities, where most young people are leaving in search for jobs in the bigger cities. The population decline in these places has also led to the decline of public transportation. Therefore, it is becoming more difficult for the elderly to travel and get around. In order to help the aging population in these far-flung places, the country has started experimenting with self-driving shuttle buses as of 2017 in order to help the elderly residents transfer from one place to another.

    Autonomous Cars

    Over the years, there have been several experiments and trials conducted with the concept of autonomous cars. The appearance of truly autonomous cars started in the 1980s. Since then, several companies have been doing many experimentations on the development of autonomous vehicles. This includes car companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and more.

    It is said that the first proposed self-driving car was the Nissan Serena, which was introduced in Japan in August 2017. The car is equipped with Nissan ProPilot system, which allows the self-driving function to be suitable for Japanese roads. The design is helpful in highway traffic as it eases the workload of the driver with its fully automatic mode. This car, which has a set of self-driving features, is planned to be fully developed and introduced to the city road by 2020.

    The Driverless Car and Shuttle Bus

    Although there have been many experiments conducted on autonomous cars, this is the first time that Japan has finally experimented with driverless cars. With the help of DeNa Company, a provider of mobile portal and e-commerce in Japan, the launching of the driverless shuttle service, Robot Shuttle, was made possible in Chiba.

    The company partnered with EasyMile S.A., which is a French company focused on driverless buses. They used EZ10, a bus which only needs light infrastructure in order to operate and meet smart transportation. It runs on virtual tracks with virtual stops that can be easily configured. The car also has a hybrid sensing system that ensures the safety of the passengers.

    It is said that the bus was founded in 1971 by automobile maker, Ligier. It can accommodate 12 people and has a cruising speed of 20 kilometers per hour (kph) and a maximum speed of 40kph. However, the experimentation ride only took the passengers at a speed of 10kph, which is relatively slow. The launching of the service is a startup plan in order for the company to come up with self-driving taxi services in the years to come, especially in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This will also help the elderly in smaller towns to transfer from one place to the next. It will make transporting to medical, banking, and shopping areas much faster and more easily. It is also said that the bus will be used in private facilities such as Aeon shopping complex in the near future.

    More often than not, the elderly in rural areas are left all by themselves struggling with basic activities such as driving. It then becomes hard for them to travel and go about without a driver. These driverless shuttle buses will hopefully make their lives as comfortable as possible. Though there are some issues regarding the slow speed of the driverless bus, it is still reliable when it comes to safety. It seems like the experimentation is turning out to be successful. It means there’s a greater chance for self-driving buses to be seen around the rural areas as well as cities in Japan by 2020.

    EasyMile shuttle bus website

    Featured image: jp.fotolia.com/