April 11, 2023
Japan’s embrace of autonomous driving is set to take another major step forward with the creation of a lane dedicated to self-driving trucks on the country’s busiest expressway.
A section of the route between the capital city, Tokyo, and Nagoya, a city of 2.2 million in Aichi prefecture, could be reserved for autonomous haulage vehicles as early as next year.
The self-driving lane will be featured on a section of the Shin-Tomei Expressway, stretching around 62 miles between Numazu and Hamamatsu, two cities to the south of Mount Fuji, Japanese media outlet Nikkei Asia was told.
This portion of road is long and straight and has three lanes on each side, making it ideal to deploy self-driving trucks. It is not yet clear if the self-driving lane will also allow vehicles driven by humans.
The lane will be accompanied by sensors and cameras to allow road conditions to be constantly monitored, and advanced 5G communication will also be required. This level of connectivity is necessary to ensure that self-driving trucks are warned of any obstacles in the lane or hold-ups further ahead, allowing them to slow down in good time.
The initiative is part of a road map for a national digital infrastructure that is set to be presented by the Japanese government.
After years of relatively slow progress in terms of capitalizing on the potential of automated transport, Japan is now accelerating plans to encourage its use amid concerns over its falling population.
Last March, it was revealed that a bill would be adopted in Parliament that would allow the introduction of driverless transport, then in November the National Police Agency confirmed plans to incorporate Level 4 autonomous driving into traffic law. Level 4 is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers as when a vehicle drives itself in specific scenarios, with no intervention from a human driver required.
With the necessary legislation now being put into place, the Japanese government has been keen to accelerate the rollout of Level 4 mobility services, with plans to have 40 areas covered by 2025 and more than 100 by 2030.
This renewed focus has also encouraged testing of autonomous vehicles (AVs) from private companies. In January this year, General Motors’ self-driving subsidiary Cruise said that it had started an evaluation program with Honda in Tochigi, with a view to the latter launching the purpose-built Origin AV as a Mobility as a Service business in Japan.
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