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Japan’s National Policy Agency announced that it would lift a ban preventing SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles from operating on Japanese roads. The change in policy will allow autonomous vehicles (AVs) to operate in a limited capacity in April 2023.
The agency will announce more details on how the vehicles will be rolled out, where they’ll be available and how many will be on the roads after a public comment period scheduled to close at the end of November 2022.
Japan hopes that it can offer mobility services using Level 4 AVs in 40 areas of the country by 2025, and in more than 100 areas by 2030. These services will likely include AVs that will be used as delivery robots or tour buses on routes in lightly populated areas.
BOLDLY, a Tokyo-based company and subsidiary of SoftBank Corp., recently partnered with Auve Tech, an Estonian developer of autonomous shuttles, to deploy autonomous shuttles in Japan. The MiCa shuttles, which will be specifically designed for Japanese roadways, will hopefully be on roads by the end of fiscal year 2023.
BOLDLY has extensive experience testing autonomous vehicles in Japan. It has conducted more than 120 pilot projects in the country, and runs partially-autonomous shuttles continuously in two locations in Japan.
Other Japanese autonomous vehicle companies, like Tier IV, are planning similar deployments in Japan in the coming months. Cruise, the self-driving unit of GM, announced in January 2021 that it would be sending its first self-driving test vehicles to the country.
While the company didn’t give much information about where, when and how these vehicles would be deployed, and hasn’t given many updates since, it has made progress in its deployments in the U.S. Cruise recently started offering daytime robotaxi rides to its employees in San Francisco, where it has already been giving rides to the public between 10 PM and 6 PM for several months.
Cruise faces competition in San Francisco from Waymo, the self-driving vehicle technology unit of Google parent Alphabet. In San Francisco, Waymo has been working to roll out its service since it began limited tests in February 2021, and it most recently received a Drivered Deployment permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in March.