Robot Taxi tries to change the face of personal mobility in Japan

Q: What were the key areas of focus in the vehicles’ validation tests?

“The new aspects on this occasion were the participation of community residents as monitors, the participation of the shopping centre in the area, and addressing actual shopping needs. This validation test was achieved with a vehicle equipped with autonomous driving technology. In the study of our service package, we confirmed acceptability with respect to whether people in a community would accept our offer, or in other words, does the business truly pencil out in a community like the one subject to the test? We also obtained user feedback from people who actually boarded the vehicle. So the test was different from a purely technical validation.”

Q: What makes Robot Taxi different from other autonomous technology?

“I believe our origin differs, in that our vision is a completely driverless environment from the beginning. So the approach is market-need driven, not technology-seed driven. The automakers, on the other hand appear to be working toward a driver’s car. In short, they are innovating automotive technology on the premise that somebody is driving. So possibly, we are trying to create different things. Personally, I feel that if the vehicle satisfies the customer’s needs, there is no need to include the joy of driving. For example, I don’t think anyone wants an exhilarating driving experience when they’re in a taxi. And if we consider safety and security, then a steering wheel, accelerator, and brake inside the cabin could be perceived as actually more dangerous.”

Q: Are there any mobility trends you follow?

“One macro-level trend is a shift from ownership to usage. The other is autonomous driving. The essence of these two defines the creation of new markets. Instead of changes to the existing market landscape, I see the trends creating fresh clientele who neither paid for vehicles or mobility services before, nor had any previous contact with these. Specifically, I think of the so-called “paper” drivers who own just a driving license. Then you have groups of people who have relied solely on public transit, or who are termed mobility-challenged because they cannot drive. These people were never customers of the automotive industry before. The advent of a passenger’s car with autonomous driving technology, as well as swapping vehicles to drive among car-share rentals will create more and more customers.”


Q: What challenges lie ahead in developing autonomous driving?

“The higher hurdles relate to amending a legal framework to permit driverless operations. In particular, I consider the preparation of reference standards to be tough. It’s really hard to define the reference for safety. I believe, therefore, that at the very least an autonomous-drive vehicle must be absolutely safer than a human-drive vehicle but perfection is not called for. If the number of accidents and violations is vastly fewer as a whole than human driving, I think the laws should permit this.”

Q: When autonomous driving is achieved, all kinds of services will emerge?

“First, some sort of reform should occur in sectors where an industry lacks human resources and has difficulty securing labour in the community and otherwise for a business model with a high cost share of expenses for compensation. For example, the transport industry struggles to secure drivers and its cost share of compensation is extremely high. The bus and taxi industries have the same problem. These sectors all have the same difficulties. In addition, beyond the public roadways, such as inside medical centres, factories, and airports, the transport of materials and goods may turn out to suffer a high cost share in labour, which also may be difficult to secure. In this way, opportunity should abound.”

Q: How can a successful business model be produced?

“A key point is how to secure one’s income through a business model that earns revenues through services, rather than through the manufacture and sale of a product. That means the approach changes for investment timings and recovery of investment timings. In the past, the business was probably developed frequently under a premise of manufacturing and subsequently selling within one year. The recovery of the initial investment, however, may change from monetising through a sale, to a different form. That means the design for income in the business model and understanding the business itself will change. For example, usage fees may be collected from end users, and that approach suddenly opens up all sorts of possibilities.”

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