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Tokyo Airports are Testing Driverless Shuttles, Scheduled for Deployment by 2020

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Posted January 22, 2019

The Tokyo International Airport, also known as the Haneda Airport, has recently joined the driverless craze sweeping the globe by announcing that it has recently commenced a series of tests on driverless shuttles which it plans to roll out for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

The testing, conducted in a restricted area of the airport, was kicked off by six local companies – including Japan‘s largest airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) – and has been scheduled to last for 10 days (15-25 January). Similar tests are also underway at a number of other national airports.

More specifically, the experiment is being performed using a self-driving prototype minibus with a human safety driver in the front seat, constantly monitoring performance of the vehicle using an advanced control system (called Dispatcher) which provides real-time feedback, allowing the driver to take over when, and if, necessary.

“Our hope is to be able to offer users autonomous buses by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” said ANA Project Manager Tadakatsu Yamaguchi.

Driverless buses soon to appear in several of Tokyo’s airports. Image credit: Øyvind Holmstad via Wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 4.0.

According to information provided by officials on Tuesday, 22 January 2019, the vehicle used for the field tests can hold a maximum of 10 passengers and cruises between two terminals at a speed of up to 30 kilometres (19 miles) per hour.

“The autonomous bus will run with the help of magnetic trackers embedded into the ground that will help guide the bus along its route. On-board sensors will allow the bus to follow these marks and will enable the bus to travel smoothly even if GPS signals are unavailable,” explained officials of the ANA.

Other than being an attempt to dazzle visitors of the airport with a glut of cutting-edge tech – everything from robotic luggage carriers to instant translation terminals – the effort is also significant given the country’s ageing citizenry.

“The decline in the population puts us at risk of no longer being able to carry out operations and that is why we are now pushing to introduce new autonomous mobility technologies so we can guarantee good operations with less staff,” said Yamaguchi.

As for the driverless shuttle project, details on the cost of the system and the number of passengers the airports expect to transport with its help – further details will be forthcoming.

Sources: techxplore.com, phys.org, travelingformiles.com.

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