Self-driving cars are coming to a street near you. And their earliest customers might not be harried tech-savvy millennials in big cities, but rather their grandparents out on the farm.
Tech titans like Google, Uber, and Apple, plus auto giants like BMW, Mercedes and Toyota, are racing to plop driverless cars on the road. In Japan, a company called Robot Taxi hopes to have its cabbie-free taxis ready by the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020.
Today, it was announced that road tests will begin next year in Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo. Fifty people will travel in trips of three kilometres from their homes to grocery stores, with a Robot Taxi employee on board as a safety precaution, the Wall Street Journal reports. And the demographics the company is targeting? Senior citizens, and people with no access to public transportation.
Robot Taxi’s new promo video, below, depicts rural Japan in 2020. The taxi, our narrator, that tells us “he” loves this street before “he” picks up an elderly couple at their house. It’s depicting the car as a member of the community and something that people trust and rely on, targeting customers who can no longer drive but still want to be active and mobile could be interested in self-driving cabs.
Last month, for the first time in Japan, the number of citizens age 100 and up hit over 60,000. (That figure was 153 in 1963.) Right now, a quarter of the entire country is at least 65. It’s the most rapidly ageing nation on Earth, and by 2030, will be the oldest country in the world. One in every three people will be at least 65, and one in every five will be at least 75. Robot Taxi seems to be banking on the fact that there will be demand, and that the elderly will be quick to adapt.
Will they, though? I think a lot of people of any age and any level of tech awareness will feel uneasy about slipping into a robotic taxi, and that’s a challenge all of these companies around the world will face: getting people comfortable enough to use the service.
In Japan, though, it might be a bit easier. We’ve previously reported about how longstanding cultural differences shape societal views on robots and how robots are used there. Here in the US, where we’re raised on Terminator and Cylons, robots are often big, industrial, scary. In Japan, meanwhile, they have more cute, communicative robo-pals than we do, like Pepper and Aibo and Kirobo that live aside humans as friends. Whether the friendly attitude toward our android brethren extends to robotic autos, we’ll have to wait and see.
Image via Robot Taxi