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DeNA to launch driverless bus service in Chiba next month

by

Staff Writer

DeNA Co., best known as a mobile video game maker, said on Thursday it will launch a driverless bus service at a park in Chiba Prefecture from next month.

The Tokyo-based firm said it has partnered with EasyMile S.A., a French startup that manufactures self-driving buses.

There are not many firms that can provide “completely driverless vehicles that can be used for actual services,” said Hiroshi Nakajima, who heads DeNA’s automotive business, explaining why his company chose to partner with EasyMile.

DeNA’s new service will employ the company’s EZ10 bus, an electric vehicle that can accommodate 12 people.

The limited-time service, dubbed Robot Shuttle, will begin on a yet-to-be-determined date in August inside the 21,000 sq.-meter Toyosuna Park in Chiba’s Makuhari district, adjacent to vast Aeon shopping complex.

The exact details are still being discussed with Aeon, which jointly oversees the park with the city of Chiba.

After experience and know-how are accumulated, Nakajima said he hopes to extend the service area to the entire Aeon complex, making it easier to get around the mega mall.

He said the technology can be used to facilitate movement in factories, amusement parks, universities and other such facilities.

DeNA announced its move into the automotive business last year as the auto industry undergoes drastic changes due to new technologies such as autonomous driving.

The company is also planning to launch a self-driving taxi service in coming years.

Nakajima said the bus service will be targeted at private facilities such as the Aeon shopping complex, while its taxis will ply the nation’s roads. Currently, under Japanese law, self-driving cars need a driver on hand to operate on public roads.

Safety is of prime concern at the moment following the first reported death involving a self-driving car in Florida.

In that recent incident in Florida, the driver of an all-electric Tesla Model S who was using its Autopilot feature died after hitting a truck that turned in front of it. Nakajima said he cannot comment on the Tesla case because he only learned of the incident through media reports. But he emphasized that DeNA understands the importance of safety, and said it is running its business based on the principle that “fatal accidents are not acceptable at any chance.”

Developers of self-driving technology including Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. say that since most car accidents are the result of human error, making self-driving cars will reduce the number of accidents.