My first taxi ride in Tokyo was a memorable moment. The driver was professionally dressed in a uniform and was wearing white gloves. His hands skillfully and precisely guided the car through Japan’s immaculate capital city.
However, starting today, the role of the uniformed taxi driver in Tokyo will gradually give way to artificial intelligence.
The Japanese robot company, ZMP, is deploying its autonomous vehicle to carry passengers on a 5-kilometer stretch of central Tokyo. It hopes to be fully operational before 40 million tourists arrive in 2020 for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Here is a look at the vehicle undergoing noise testing on a controlled track:
Land of the Rising Robots
Japan is a global leader in the production of industrial robots. In 2016, the country exported roughly $1.6 billion dollars’ worth of industrial robots, or 52% of the world’s supply.
The recent purchase of Boston Dynamics, formerly a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, further strengthens Japan’s lead in robot production and usage.
New hardware requires new software. Japan’s deployment of robotic taxis and other forms of automation will require ever-larger amounts of code.
This offers a unique opportunity for software companies looking to expand into the third largest economy. Demand should grow significantly for the design and development of the algorithms required to safely navigate unmanned vehicles throughout Japan’s densely populated cities.
However, I suspect that the bulk of the transportation for the the 2020 Olympics will continue to be provided by white-gloved taxi drivers.