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As an ever increasing number of self-driving vehicles are being tested on US roads, Japan has revealed that it will be taking the technology a step further by testing autonomous taxis with passengers next year.
The Japanese government and Robot Taxi Inc. announced that they will be offering the service to about 50 people in the Kanagawa prefecture, an area just South of Tokyo, for a limited period in 2016. The self-driving taxis will carry people to and from their homes to local grocery stores, travelling about 2 miles at a time through the main streets of the city, according to the Wall Street Journal.
During the trials, which will be targeting senior citizens and people without access to public transport, the taxis will have a human driver behind the wheel at all times to take control should any problems arise.
Robot Taxi Inc. - which is a joint venture between internet company DeNA Co. and autonomous vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc. - plans to launch a fully commercial self-driving taxi service by 2020, assuming next year's tests are successful. As well as being aimed at elderly people, the company hopes to use the taxis to aid foreign visitors and give non-vehicle owners access to areas that public transportation doesn't cover.
Japan is the most rapidly aging nation on earth, with over 60,000 citizens aged 100 or older and a quarter of the entire country at least 65 years old. Robot Taxi's service will be targeted primarily at this aging section of the population once it is up and running.
Google, Uber, Tesla and a number of other vehicle manufacturers have been ramping up their research into self-driving vehicle technology recently. The companies believe it to be the future of transportation, as an ever increasing number of people come round to the idea of being driven about autonomously.
Check out the robot taxi in the video below.