Suzu,  Japan

Self-driving cars in Japan focused on improving safety

In Suza, Japan one can see a Toyota Prius driving along the seaside rode. Equipped with a sensor, this test car is being tested for making critical traffic decisions. Its objective? Keep the aging population driving, and keep them driving in a more safe way especially in the country side where public transportation options may be limited.  In Japan, Toyota has about 100 people employed in the development of autonomous cars.  Autonomous vehicles are largely being developed on the premises that they are more safe than cars being driven by humans.  In Japan, about a quarter of the traffic accidents is caused by drivers over 65, a percentage substantial larger than in most other developed countries.

The Japanese government is offering various incentives to have autonomous cars on the road by 2020, when Japan is hosting the Olympics.  Like Toyota, Nissa is also developing self-driving cars. Next to safety concerns, an aging population also has resulted in declining car sales. By extending the ability for people to drive cars safely into old age, Nissan and Toyota are basically banking on being able to sell more cars over time.

Also Honda committed itself to developing self-driving cars. However, tests by all 3 companies are still in an initial phase and there is lots of development ahead. Issues like the high equipment costs, how to make effective and safe traffic decisions, still have to be addressed and will take several years to complete. Toyota made a US$1 billion commitment to a development center located in Silicon Valley, so it appears it is only a matter of years before we will see self-driving cars on the road.