A recent Nikkei report states that Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo is about to close a deal with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance for bringing autonomous taxis to Japan’s busy streets. While Japan has strict limitations on ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, taxi numbers are growing and a very popular mode of transport in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
The business daily reported that Waymo will work with the automakers to start the process in the next few months. They are considering developing autonomous taxis using select Nissan vehicles and a special system that handles bookings and payments. More details are yet to be released but early indicators point to customers being able to book an autonomous taxi online or by using a smartphone app.
This new partnership could be massive for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as developing autonomous systems is incredibly complex and costly. Linking up with Waymo means that the alliance don’t have to do all of the required R&D work to create their own autonomous driving systems.
Waymo is considered the leading authority among companies developing autonomous driving technology, especially in terms of test distances covered. It operates hundreds of autonomous vehicles in 25 locations across America and also operates a service with autonomous taxis. In fact, they already have paying customers in Chandler, Arizona.
Waymo Invests Heavily In Autonomous Driving
Waymo is opening a $13.6 million autonomous vehicle facility in the Detroit area and for good reason. Michigan actually has more connected and autonomous vehicle projects than any other state according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Waymo’s Metro Detroit facility will, in fact, be the first factory in the world dedicated to mass produce L4 autonomous vehicles. At the new facility, they will fit their autonomous hardware and software to several vehicles including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rovers. Over the next few years, they will employ up to 400 additional engineers, fleet managers and operations experts among others.
According to a Waymo blog post announcing their new facility, “As we begin to commercialize our business and vehicle supply grows, we’re laying the foundation for a scalable, robust vehicle integration plan, starting in Michigan.”
At the moment, neither Chrysler nor Jaguar has a real presence in Japan but Nissan and Mitsubishi feature prominently on Japanese roads. Potential customers might feel more reassured seeing a familiar brand when they book a ride in autonomous taxis. The motoring public can expect more details about this partnership later this year.
Judging from Waymo’s extensive experience in autonomous driving and the global reach of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, this partnership could lead to incredible things. While there are several reports circulating, a spokesman for the alliance, Nick Twork, said, “This (Nikkei) story is based on rumours and speculation. We have nothing to announce.”
If that statement isn’t enough to put doubt in anyone’s mind is the fact that Waymo also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Only time will tell how this partnership will pan out but for the sake of autonomous taxis in Japan, let’s hope it does. Perhaps in time the investment and technology will spread to other countries including South Africa.
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