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Japan pushes driverless cars to keep aging population mobile

Nissan is among the Japanes OEMs who test self-driving cars. (Photo: Nissan)

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Japanese government backs OEMs to speed up the regulation and development of self-driving cars.

Japan’s car manufacturers are betting on autonomous vehicles to provide mobility for an ever-aging population. With the support of the Japanese government, companies like Toyota and Nissan want the island state to be the first country to allow driverless cars. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Renault-Nissan’s research chief, Kazuhiro Doi, said: “One of the requests of the government is to make us safer with autonomous cars.”

The paper reports that Japan is the world leader when it comes to an aging population, with one in four people older than 65. Drivers in that age group cause 25 percent of all traffic deaths, compared to 15 percent in the United States. The problem is especially apparent in the countryside, since many young people choose to move to large cities. The article depicts the seaside town of Suzu, where half of the population is older than 65. Toyota has been testing an autonomous vehicle there for months. “If the technology works, it will allow older people to stay behind the wheel longer,” Toyota manager Ken Koibuchi claims.

Meanwhile, politicians in Japan are actively supporting such testing efforts. The government is eying the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the time to deploy self-driving cabs that could transport the athletes: a world stage on which to showcase the country’s high-tech prowess.  

Interestingly, vehicle sales in Japan have been in decline during the last decade. Keeping elderly people mobile could provide carmakers with a much needed boost for sales. It is no surprise then that carmakers are investing billions of dollars into the research and testing of autonomous vehicles.

While Nissan has promised a driverless car as early as 2020, the car industry still faces several hurdles along the way. One of them is the high cost of components. Currently, according to the article, sensors and the like can add tens of thousands of dollars to a vehicle’s price. For them to become affordable for elderly customers, prices will have to decrease significantly.        

Read the full Wall Street Journal article here.

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