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Could Tokyo be an intelligent mobility lab?


With the 2020 Olympic Games approaching, the Japanese capital is drawing on the very latest in mobility technology.

Often seen as one of the smartest cities in the world, Tokyo has become a hub of digital innovation and experimentation in recent decades. Intelligent mobility, or optimised, more sustainable means of transport, is undoubtedly its strong point. Travellers can save time by tapping into the city’s wide variety of transport and information services to choose and optimise journeys in real time, which is not to be underestimated in a city where roads are saturated with traffic.

Connected vehicles

Carmakers, telecom operators and equipment manufacturers, IT companies and navigation specialists are working together to improve vehicle telematics systems for managing large amounts of information in real time. Tokyo’s big data traffic information service set up by Toyota in 2013 is based on using telematics services to collect as much data as possible, including the location of cars on a given road, the speed at which they are travelling, traffic density, roadworks and accidents. All these data are relayed to users, who can share their own observations through their tablet, PC or smartphone. The information can be used to plan routes, adjust the timing of traffic lights and help guide emergency services. It will also have useful applications in the intelligent transport systems (ITS) industry, where Japan maintains a global leadership position. Connected, autonomous vehicles are undoubtedly the greatest challenge for the Japanese automotive industry today.

In time for the 2020 Olympics

With government backing, the vehicle of the future is set to be presented to the rest of the world at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. As well as flaunting the expertise of Japanese manufacturers, this showcase product should also help to address a key societal challenge, which is to enable elderly people living in rural areas to get around safely. Japan aims to market these autonomous cars by 2020/2025, with the government’s executive branch planning to introduce advanced, self-driving transport services in rural areas by 2025.

So the race is on for automakers. The first major test will be the transport of Olympics Games athletes and spectators to the various event venues in fleets of driverless vehicles. And the country is relying on local industry champions to rise to the challenge. A partnership has recently been formed between Japanese robotics specialist ZMP, which began marketing its first mini robotic car in 2011, and Hinomaru Kotsu, one of the top ten taxi companies in Tokyo. The Japanese capital’s 60,000-strong fleet of taxis – more than London, Paris and New York combined – has helped promote the use of electric mobility solutions among the general public for the past decade. If autonomous cars become widespread, the future of taxis is likely to be affected.

Avant-garde Tokyo could also be the first smart city to have flying vehicles. Toyota, an official partner of the Olympics, is backing an air car project dubbed the Cartivator, which is still in the experimental stage.

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