YOKOHAMA - Nissan Motor Co. and DeNA Co. said Friday they will begin public tests of their ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles next month with 300 participants.
The tests will be the first trial service with public customers for the Japanese carmaker and the internet service company as the two aim to commercialize their robot-vehicle mobility service "Easy Ride" in the early 2020s.
"Electrification and intelligent mobility will be the key to our growth. These technical innovations will...allow us to provide new mobility in all kinds of scenes," Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told a press conference at its headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
The "Easy Ride" field tests will be conducted in Yokohama for two weeks from March 5. The route covers about 4.5 kilometers connecting four ride stations including the Nissan headquarters building. Nissan said it will consider expanding the route eventually.
DeNA President Isao Moriyasu said he hopes the new service will solve transportation problems in Japan. There will be more elderly people having difficulty in driving to stores or hospitals on their own as Japan faces an aging society, he said.
"Meanwhile, the transportation industry is facing a labor shortage...I hope to focus on services that customers can use both efficiently and safely," he said.
Two Nissan Leaf electric vehicles equipped with a driving app developed by DeNA will be used for the tests. Using the app in smartphones, customers will be able to summon driver-less vehicles, set destinations or even get restaurant recommendations. DeNA is known for developing game apps for smartphones with Japanese game maker Nintendo Co., including "Super Mario Run."
As part of the service, if a customer searches for a cake shop, for example, on the tablet computer installed inside the car, the vehicle will find one nearby, offer a discount coupon and automatically drive the customer there.
During the trial service, there will be officials sitting in the driver's seats to monitor the system to prevent accidents.
Nissan said it is currently considering its cars for the "Easy Ride" service to run at a so-called autonomous level of 4 or 5.
Vehicles with level 4 self-driving technology require no steering wheel or brake operations by a driver under certain weather and other running conditions and those with level 5 are completely autonomous with no restrictions.
The Japanese carmaker has said it is aiming to market fully self-driving cars by 2022.