Under a test program led by the University of Gunma and the city municipal authorities, autonomous buses could soon be functioning on the streets of Maebashi come spring 2018. According to the university, if all goes well the hands-free vehicles will be in regular service in about a year, making Maebashi host to Japan’s first autonomous buses operating on public roads.
The test route is a 1-kilometer long stretch, that connects 2 existing points JR Maebashi Station and Jomo Electric Railway Co.’s Chuo-Maebashi Station. The test bus will not carry passengers, but will instead be used to confirm the vehicle’s safety and collect data on features along the road such as buildings and roadside trees. Starting from November 2018, the test buses will have passengers on board.
We can also reduce the load on drivers with the introduction of autonomous vehicle technology, and help people with limited mobility.
– Maebashi Municipal Representative
Furthermore, though the bus is designed to run without human intervention, there will still be a driver behind the wheel who can take control if the vehicle is about to get into an accident. However, “the ultimate goal is for the bus to operate without a driver,” a Gunma University project team member said.