Moving out of Kyushu and into Fukui Prefecture on the main island of Honshu, where local government has decided to setup an automated shuttle service taking tourists from the closest train station up to the famous Eiheiji Temple 6km away.
The road has been cleaned up and prepared to allow for pedestrians (tourists, pilgrims etc) to walk along the sides of the road while the golf-cart-like electric shuttle uses AI, sensors and other software to stay within the 3m-wide lane leading up and down from the temple. While the shuttle only takes a maximum of 2-3 passengers, excluding one steward or stewardess for safety purposes, and travels at a maximum 20km/h, it will have 4-5 locations along the way to pick up and/or drop off passengers if necessary.
According to this article, this is the first such attempt in Japan over such a long distance for tourists purposes, and could be a model for other localities looking to boost tourism revenues without associated driver costs. The current price tag for the 2 year experiment along this stretch of road until 2019 is a hefty $1m, making it a $171/hour service for the community over the course of the trial.
While first-of-their-kind experiments are always going to be expensive, increasing the number of passengers carried, shifting to volume vehicle production and standardizing the embedded and cloud software required, could help bring down prices enough to offer revenue growth for any local community looking to maximize the use of their cultural assets. One to watch.