I predicted robot taxis and trucks by 2020. Most doubted it, but I maintained I was as likely to be too late as opposed to too early.

The future has arrived, at least in Japan. Autonomous taxis will operate in test mode next year with a goal of full production by 2020.

Reader Alain writes …

Hey Mish, I saw this article and it reminded me of your self-driving cars posts some time ago. When I read your posts I thought your time frame on their arrival seemed a bit optimistic. But here we are.

Robot Taxis Starting 2016 in Japan

The Wall Street Journal reports RoboCab: Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan

From the country where hotels are operated by robots and androids serve as clerks at department stores comes the latest unmanned project: the robot cab.

Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores.

According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents.

Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture between mobile Internet company DeNA Co. and vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc., is aiming to commercialize its driverless transportation service by 2020. The company says it will seek to offer unmanned cabs to users including travelers from overseas and locals in areas where buses and trains are not available.

The project is a part of the government’s effort to promote innovation and startup businesses.
Among companies trying to turn driverless cars into business is Google Inc., which started testing its system in Texas in July.

Robot Taxis Image

Image: Miho Inada/The Wall Street Journal

Note the car still has a steering wheel. That steering wheel will be gone by 2020.

Self-Driving Trucks on German Autobahn

Self-driving trucks in real conditions are on highways in Germany. It’s just a test, but it won’t take five years for live operation.

Truck Yeah! reports Daimler’s Autonomous Truck Successfully Completed Its Maiden Voyage On A Public Highway.

Following up on their American Adventures, Mercedes successfully tested its semi-autonomous Highway Pilot system on the German Autobahn. This technology can be fitted into regular production trucks and is a huge step towards fully autonomous transportation.

The Federal State of Baden-Württemberg set Daimler Trucks loose on its highways, showing the world that the technology is pretty much production ready despite the missing legal context surrounding autonomous vehicles.

At this stage, the driver remains in control despite the truck accelerating, braking and steering on its own, but Daimler says humans can never drive as efficiently as the robot does, and since the aim is to minimize fuel consumption while improving traffic flow, driverless transportation is what we’re looking at in the long run.

Also consider Daimler Tests Self-Driving Truck on German Highway

German automaker Daimler said it trialled a self-driving truck under real traffic conditions for the first time Friday, on a motorway in southern Germany.

The standard Mercedes-Benz Actros, fitted with the intelligent “Highway Pilot” system, travelled 14 kilometres (about nine miles) on the A8 motorway, with a driver in the cabin but his hands off the wheel.

The truck in Friday’s trial, the world’s first series-production autonomous truck, drove between Stuttgart and the town of Denkendorf in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Daimler is headquartered.

State premier Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens party, who was also along for the ride, said “partially autonomous and autonomous driving indicates that a new age of mobility is dawning”.

“Autonomously driving and networked vehicles improve the flow of traffic and can play a decisive role in helping to avoid traffic jams and relieving the strain on drivers,” he said in a statement. “They also boost traffic safety.”

Daimler says autonomous trucks improve efficiency and cut carbon emissions. Thanks to optimised gear shifting, acceleration and braking, they generate at least five percent fewer CO2 emissions, said the company.

Daimler, whose vehicles include the high-end Mercedes-Benz range and compact Smart cars, is also the world’s biggest maker of trucks with brands including Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Fuso and BharatBenz.

Snowball Action

This is likely to snowball much faster than I expected two years ago.

And as I have stated numerous times, millions of truck driving and taxi driving jobs will vanish by 2025 at the latest.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock