Japan's Haneda airport tests driverless buses

An operator monitors the minibuses (right) as they cruise along a route at a speed of up to 30kmh using GPS and magnetic road markers.
An operator monitors the minibuses (above) as they cruise along a route at a speed of up to 30kmh using GPS and magnetic road markers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An operator monitors the minibuses (right) as they cruise along a route at a speed of up to 30kmh using GPS and magnetic road markers.
An operator monitors the minibuses as they cruise along a route at a speed of up to 30kmh using GPS and magnetic road markers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Visitors pouring into Japan's Haneda airport for the Tokyo Olympics next year may find themselves ferried to and from planes on driverless buses, currently being tested at the major hub.

Six Japanese firms, including national carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA), jointly started a 10-day experiment with a self-driving prototype minibus last week. Yesterday, officials allowed a sneak peak at the automated transportation, which is being tested with a safety driver in the front seat. The "driver" sat with his white-gloved hands hovering above the wheel, ready to take control if need be, but otherwise allowing the bus to wend the route on its own.

"Our hope is to be able to offer users autonomous buses by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics," said ANA project chief Tadakatsu Yamaguchi.

The bus holds up to 10 people and cruises along a route connecting two terminals at a speed of up to 30kmh using Global Positioning System and magnetic markers on the road.

Project officials did not immediately detail the cost of the system or how many people they expect to eventually use the buses.

Japan is hoping the 2020 Games will be a chance to showcase cutting-edge tech projects in the country, but autonomous transport is also an important sector for a nation suffering labour shortages and a shrinking, ageing population.

"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 Mr Yamaguchi.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Japan's Haneda airport tests driverless buses'. Print Edition | Subscribe