The economy ministry plans to start testing unmanned ground vehicles on public roads by the end of March next year through cooperation with private-sector companies, hoping to put them into practical use soon.

The ministry agreed Monday to establish a public-private council on UGVs. Members include e-commerce firm Rakuten Inc., Yamato Transport Co., Japan Post Co. and transport company Seino Holdings Co., as well as the National Police Agency, the transport ministry and local governments.

The council is to identify challenges, including ways to secure the safety of UGVs on public roads and who would bear responsibility for accidents, officials said.

The ministry is considering possible revisions to the Road Traffic Law in fiscal 2020, which starts in April next year.

Utilizing GPS and cameras, UGVs would be used to deliver parcels and other items. They are expected to be utilized by logistics companies that face severe labor shortages, industry sources said.

On Monday, five UGVs developed in Japan and overseas gave a demonstration at the economy ministry in Tokyo.

A UGV developed by U.S. robotics company Marble, which has a tie-up with major real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate Co., automatically determines its route and travels to its destination using four cameras and sensors.

Recipients receive their deliveries by inputting passwords. In the United States, tests have already started for pizza delivery services.

A UGV developed by Chinese e-commerce company JD.com Inc., a partner of Rakuten, is already delivering goods purchased online in some areas of China.

Shipping companies require a large number of staff to deliver parcels the last few kilometers between local depots and their final destination. UGVs would reduce the need for such companies to have so many employees.

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