Unmanned Buses Will Soon Start Carrying Passengers in Japan
Japan is preparing to launch a pilot project to test unmanned buses on its roads. This move is a key component of the country's strategy to automate ground public transportation, as reported by Nikkei Asia.
The main goal of the project is not only to reduce the burden on the roads but also to address the shortage of drivers, a problem exacerbated by a demographic crisis.
The first phase of testing unmanned buses will begin shortly in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of the Japanese capital. A dedicated lane equipped with special sensors and cameras responsible for road safety will be allocated for this purpose.
In the initial stage, an Isuzu bus adapted for autonomous operation without a driver will be deployed on this route. Technologically, this prototype will correspond to the second level of autonomy according to the SAE classification, which involves the presence of a driver behind the wheel who can intervene if necessary.
A meeting of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan, where detailed plans of the pilot project will be discussed, is scheduled for tomorrow, September 15, and the specific testing schedule is expected to be approved by the end of the current year.
According to international standards, there are five levels of autonomous driving. The lowest, level 1, includes driver assistance functions such as automatic braking. Level 5 is fully automated driving.
The government has already released plans to implement automated driving lanes on expressways. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry will present a proposal for the implementation of the system on public roads in Hitachi at a planning meeting on Friday. The specific plan will be finalized by the end of the year.
The main operator of the system will be the bus company Michinori Holdings. The company has previously experimented with automated driving using a high-speed bus system in the city of Hitachi. The company used an Isuzu bus-based vehicle designed to operate without a driver. The same type of vehicle could be used for the new lanes. Whether these lanes will be designated for unmanned vehicles or if they will be prioritized will be determined later.