Of course Japan is the first country with driverless taxis. How could it be otherwise? Next year, Robot Taxi, Inc. will carry passengers in the Kanagawa district of Tokyo, with plans to expand across the country in the coming years.
The prospective rider will call up a taxi via smartphone app. When the car arrives, it will confirm their identity with a camera and unlock the door. It then would plan the quickest route to a destination and drive off.
That’s it. The experience is no different from a regular taxi ride, only your driver won’t be slunk down in their seat, carrying on an inexplicably dull and lengthy telephone conversation, nor will they comment on the skills of passing female drivers.
The target passengers are the elderly or disabled, and this might be the way that driverless car makers crack the U.S. and other more conservative markets. For these customers, robotaxis are actually better than what currently exists, and in a possible future driverless city, it might be their only option. In Japan, Robot Taxi Inc wants to offer old people who live in the suburbs an alternative to expensive regular taxis.
There’s one catch, though. These first driverless cars won’t be entirely unmanned. They will come with a human, ready to wrest control should a problem arise. To me, this seems a lot like the birth of the motor car, where a human was required to walk in front of the machine, waving a flag to warn pedestrians–a charade to comfort the public more than an actual safety requirement.