Michinoeki as automated driving hubs in Southern Japan

As automated driving slowly becomes a reality, the regions of Japan are looking into adapting their infrastructure to support the arrival of this new form of mobility. One area of interest has been the Michinoeki, or “roadside stations”. This network was started up in 1991 by the MInistry of Land and Transport out of a need for integrated roadside stops along the highways of Japan beyond a minimal refuelling or parking area. Started in earnest in 1993 with 103 locations, the network had grown to over 1,100 locations by end 2016, offering basic restroom facilities, refreshments and meals, as well as sales of local produce and handicraft, and sometimes travel and tourist information on surrounding sightseeing locations.

Last year when the Kyushu Earthquake hit the Southern Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, Mr Oe, an executive of the Kyushu-Okinawa Michinoeki network in a recent article noted that these Michinoeki doubled as lifeline hubs across the Kumamoto prefecture to support the self-defence forces disaster relief efforts as well as act as safe zones for evacuees. Going forward he expects these to grow in significance, taking on the additional roles of foreign tourist orientation and next-generation vehicle support hubs.

The Ministry of Land heavily supports the expanded role for Michinoeki, and just yesterday designated the “Ashikita Dekopon” Michinoeki in Kumamoto Prefecture as one of 5 locations nationwide for automated driving experiments in supporting automated mobility for citizens deprived of public transport in rural areas. These experiments are currently in the public tender phase until May 25th, with nominated parties to begin real-world experiments this summer. As a result of these experiments, expect more funding and infrastructure to spring up around these roadside stations… a future support network for automated vehicles across Japan?