Travellers headed east and north from Yamaguchi soon arrive into Shimane Prefecture, where automated driving efforts are focused on the Akagi Kogen Michinoeki (or local roadside stations that we covered in a previous post). This Michinoeki was designated by the Ministry of Land and Transport as one of 5 locations nationwide to test basic concepts in automated driving.
According to this communique released two weeks ago, four technology companies were selected for their test vehicles who will carry out the tests. In the case of Shimane prefecture, leading surveying company Aisan Technology from the Nagoya region has been chosen to test self-driving concepts around the Akagi Kogen Michinoeki using their self-driving vehicle that can travel up to 40km/h using their own 3-dimensional HD Maps. Aisan Technology has been very active in this space, moving outside of their core surveying business and towards cutting edge technology development both on the hardware and software side. Not only is their proposal the closest to real-world driving conditions (say on congested roads), but it also uses a 3-dimensional map concept that is the most likely candidate for standardization in Japan. They are apparently working in close partnership with Shimane University on the project that will kick off this Summer.
In this morning’s Nikkei Newspaper, the leading Japanese party in Parliament the LDP as part of their growth strategy has notified the mapping industry to standardize their 3D maps by 2017 in order to kick off large scale usage on roads by 2018. The Japanese government is eager to accelerate efforts in automated driving and ensure the continued competitivity of the local automotive industry, currently under pressure from mainly American and European rivals who have a headstart in the domain.
It remains to be seen whether such basic technical feasibility will be enough to accelerate Japan’s industry base to the next level. Hopefully these tests will show both the technical feasibility in near-real-world conditions and the social benefits that could be brought to local communities deploying the technology. In my view, the results of these tests should then be used to create an open automated driving ecosystem that puts the local community at the center of the value proposition, rather than just a technology implementation. In other words, take the tests carried out and franchise them as a package to anyone who wants to run their own tests around any Michinoeki road station across Japan. Not just the vehicle or the data or the cloud, the whole package. Even better, just rent out the package by the day or week, with results flowing back into the pool of data for future learning… Let’s hope the tests go well!