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Japan Transportation Technology

Japan Trials Driverless Cars In Bid To Keep Rural Elderly On the Move (reuters.com) 59

According to Reuters, Japan is starting to experiment with self-driving buses in rural communities such as Nishikata, 71 miles (115 km) north of the capital, Tokyo, where elderly residents struggle with fewer bus and taxi services as the population ages and shrinks. From the report: The swift advance of autonomous driving technology is prompting cities such as Paris and Singapore to experiment with such services, which could prove crucial in Japan, where populations are not only greying, but declining, in rural areas.Japan could launch self-driving services for remote communities by 2020, if the trials begun this month prove successful. The government plans to turn highway rest stops into hubs from which to ferry the elderly to medical, retail and banking services. In the initial trials of the firm's driverless six-seater Robot Shuttle, elderly residents of Nishikata, in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, were transferred between a service area and a municipal complex delivering healthcare services. The test also checked the vehicle's operational safety in road conditions ranging from puddles to fallen debris, and if those crossing its path would react to the warning it emits.

Japan Trials Driverless Cars In Bid To Keep Rural Elderly On the Move

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  • A car, or a bus? Sheesh...

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Where does the dividing line come?

      Here in the US most of our roadways were designed around cars. Even in older cities, the pre-automobile streets tend to be wider than their counterparts in older, say European cities. That's what drives our mania for large cars that simply would be impractical in many countries.

      Japan has a lot of ancient roadways that are extremely narrow and sometimes windy. This has prompted the evolution of motor vehicles that seem amusingly tiny [youtube.com] to American eyes, but are in fact the o

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Also, at least among the older Japanese, smaller body sizes are more common. But don't assume their larger people are any smaller than the ones you know, unless you know some professional basketball or football players. Even then...the Japanese also produce Sumo wrestlers.

        But on the average older Japanese are smaller than older USians, so smaller vehicles are appropriate.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        6 passengers and we'd probably call it a van, in the US.

        The headline says cars, the summary says buses. I'm not actually sure it's either.

  • wrong problem... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Maybe the Japanese technologists should help work out some of the issues about their population decline, cost of living and cost of parenting that disincentivizes family formation, hatred of foreigners, and other issues, lest they run out of people to sit in these self-driving buses when they finally hit the roads?
    • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @04:38AM (#55193731) Homepage

      This is really about urbanization, not population changes, and it's not limited to Japan.

      The issue is that young people leave rural areas - for school, higher education, jobs - and don't return. Cities grow while rural areas shrink, and eventually the population becomes too small and too sparse to support a good range of public services. Similar things are happening in Europe and in north America as well.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Japan does have a specific problem with people not having children though. It's basically too expensive, and even though they strengthened maternity rights at work women still feel unable to balance children and a career. There are also more and more men who have little interest in children, or even women at all, instead preferring otaku (nerd) culture. Note that they are not like western incels though, they don't hate women.

        Japanese culture is particularly bad for this stuff. There is a culture of being se

        • by JanneM ( 7445 )

          I agree low birthrates is a problem (although the reasons are principally economical rather than social). I live in Japan and see this first hand.

          Low birth rates is not the cause of the rural depopulation, though. That has been an ongoing trend since long before the population stopped growing; and it's a trend in countries whose populations are stable or still growing at present.

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          Actually, the Japanese *do* dislike "foreigners" living there. So do most countries (or Trump would never have been elected) but the Japanese are a bit extreme...possibly because they have long been an island, and have repelled repeated invasions. But native Japanese of Korean ancestry who have lived there from multiple generations are still strongly discriminated against, even though *I*, as a Caucasian teenager, was not able to tell the difference by looking. (OTOH, I believe that those in the US with

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Japanese culture tries hard to avoid embarrassment, and dealing with foreigners can often lead to it. However, once you indicate that you understand this people are generally quite nice and helpful.

          • And don't tell a Japanese that his precious islands where colonized via Korea :D

        • Japan does have a specific problem with people not having children though. It's basically too expensive, and even though they strengthened maternity rights at work women still feel unable to balance children and a career. There are also more and more men who have little interest in children, or even women at all, instead preferring otaku (nerd) culture. Note that they are not like western incels though, they don't hate women.
          The after Fukushima government issued warnings not to have children in the danger z

      • and eventually the population becomes too small and too sparse to support a good range of public services.
        In the US, where public service is a communist thing ...

    • I think their approach is excellent. Driverless and driver-assisted cars could give freedom of movement to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't qualify for driving. That includes a lot of people who are already/still on the road. Heck, imagine being able to drink and drive again!

  • cities such as Paris and Singapore to experiment with such services, which could prove crucial in Japan

    Decide for yourself.

    • To be fair the Republic of Singapore (at 719km2) is 1/20th the size of some other cities (e.g.: Brisbane in Australia is 15,842km2).
  • My impression is that right now driverless cars are extremely safe (i.e. much safer than a human) in most circumstances. But in certain circumstances, like rain or snow or sunset, they are still quite unsafe.

    So you can set up a driverless car service now, and only allow it to run when it's safe (which is probably more than 90% of the time).

    90% availability is unacceptable for the average consumer. But for elderly people who would otherwise not be able to move at all (and tend to have flexible schedules, bei

    • I don't think it's that easy. There are going to be edge cases that happen during that 90% of the time that are also unsafe. A child or pet that didn't quite appear in a sensor, a sudden storm. What are you going to do if those occur, park by the side of the road and force a walk home?
      • Human drivers don't handle edge cases either as evidenced by the over 5,000 pedestrians are killed by human drivers every year and 130,000 being treated for non-fatal injuries.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Dunno why, but I got a mental image of these cars lurking behind trees and chasing old people to make sure they got plenty of exercise.

    • by cjmnews ( 672731 )

      I had a similar image, only it was the car lurching forward a few feet each time the elderly got close...

  • I'm getting older and I'm hoping that autonomous vehicles will improve rapidly enough so that I can still get around as my faculties deteriorate. (Although my mom is 93 and still drives so there is hope.)

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