Self-driving cars to let tourists ride through Tokyo in 2020, Abe says

Kyodo, JIJI

Visitors to the 2020 Olympic Games will have the chance to ride self-driving cars in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday, suggesting a change to rules over the next five years that basically do not even allow Segway transporters to ply the streets.

“Autonomous cars will be seen driving around Tokyo in 2020 when the Olympics and Paralympics take place,” Abe said.

Speaking at an international conference on science and technology in Kyoto, Abe also pledged Japan would contribute to innovations in driving technology.

Japan has a mission to employ its technologies to advance and improve the safety of vehicles, he told the annual meeting of the Science and Technology in Society forum, which brings together scientists, businessmen and government officials in charge of science policy.

In particular, the prime minister mentioned the development of technology to transmit driving information, including traffic signals and road conditions, to vehicles.

Abe said he took a test drive in a self-driving vehicle near the Diet building two years ago. “I became the first driver of an autonomous vehicle on a public road in Japan. In the future, I’ll be noted in the history of Japan,” he said.

Abe expressed hope that Japan will become a world leader in the development of the sophisticated maps needed for autonomous driving.

After U.S. Internet giant Google Inc. launched its first self-driving car on a trial basis in 2010, many automakers including those in Japan have entered the field and are testing prototypes.

Changes in the law will be needed to fulfill Abe’s vision, with the Road Traffic Act currently mandating that vehicles should have drivers.

The government and local authorities in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo said recently a street test of a self-driving taxis will begin there by next March.

To ensure the safety of passengers during the testing, in which vehicles will drive themselves based on information provided via cameras and a global positioning system, specially trained drivers will be present on board the vehicles.

A revised regulation was put into effect for Segways in July to allow the operation of the two-wheel electric transporters across Japan on an experimental basis under certain conditions.