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Yamato Transport, DeNA start driverless delivery experiment

An electric car equipped with storage boxes that is part of the "Roboneko Yamato" project is seen here on April 16, 2017. (Mainichi)

FUJISAWA, Kanagawa -- Delivery service giant Yamato Transport Co. and e-commerce specialist DeNA Co. will test out a home delivery service that uses driverless vehicles here from April 17, both companies announced on April 16.

    The motivation behind the experiment -- part of a project called "Roboneko Yamato" -- is to resolve the problem of driver shortages and redelivery of packages. By carrying out the experiment, which is scheduled to last for one year, the companies are hoping that they will be able to provide driverless delivery services to customers in the future.

    The trial will make use of three electric vehicles that are specially equipped with storage lockers, which the package recipients can open by entering confidential information such as pin numbers. As a general rule, these vehicles will be manned. However, this particular experiment will work on the assumption that the vehicles are driverless, and the drivers will have no involvement in the handing over of packages.

    Currently, the driverless delivery project that will be tested offers two services. The first, called "Roboneko Delivery," will enable users to select a set delivery time, broken down into 10-minute intervals, directly from their smartphones. Under this system, it is also possible to collect the package outside of one's home, whereby the user is alerted three minutes before the package's arrival.

    The second service is called "Roboneko Store." Under this system, products that have been purchased online from local shopping arcades are to be delivered to the customer, and the arrival time can be confirmed via smartphone.

    At a press conference here on April 16, Yamato Transport's Managing Executive Officer Seiichi Awa stated, "It is important that we take the necessary safety precautions. However, in addition, we are also aiming to create a world in which packages can be collected anywhere, regardless of location."

    At the same press conference, DeNA's automotive business department manager, Hiroshi Nakajima, said, "We would like to consider how many delivery vehicles would be necessary, in response to market demand."

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