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Japan eyes self-driving trucks, AI in new growth strategy

Self-driving trucks traveling 15 meters apart at a speed of 80 kilometers per hour are seen during a test in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, in this Oct. 6, 2010 file photo. (Mainichi)

Japan plans to put self-driving trucks to commercial use by fiscal 2022 and will also implement artificial intelligence (AI) and robots in the medical sector under government plans for a new growth strategy whose details emerged recently.

    The "Japan Revitalization Strategy 2017" lists five areas for growth, which also cover drone services and the "fintech" industry integrating finance and information technology. A Cabinet decision on the plans will be made in early June on the heels of their May 30 presentation at the government's Council on Investments for the Future.

    The Japan Revitalization Strategy was first presented following the inauguration of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December 2012. The 2017 outline is the strategy's fourth edition. The five areas it covers are: (1) Promoting "healthy life expectancy" enabling people to live without receiving medical treatment or nursing care; (2) Realizing a "transportation revolution" through the use of self-driving vehicles and drones; (3) Creating supply chains for future generations through IT-based streamlining; (4) Providing comfortable infrastructure and urban development; and (5) Implementing "fintech," which fuses finance and information technology. The outline aims to produce next-generation industries and work to solve issues such the declining birth rate and aging population.

    In the field of "healthy life expectancy," there will be a push to introduce telemedicine implementing AI. And to relieve the burden on caregivers, the introduction of robots will also be advanced. The government will seek to streamline medical treatment and nursing care with a view to curbing the nation's burgeoning social security costs.

    The pillar of the "transportation revolution" will be promotion of self-driving vehicles and drones to alleviate a serious shortage of workers in the logistics sector. In 2020, the government will conduct a test with a self-driving truck following a truck with a human driver on the Shin Tomei Expressway, with the aim to commercialize such vehicles as early as 2022. Furthermore, drone parcel deliveries to remote islands and mountain regions will begin in 2018, and the government will bring in a full-scale drone-based delivery system in cities in the 2020s.

    Current legislation does not take into account drones, fintech and other new technology, so measures to relax regulations will enter the spotlight. The government will also therefore introduce a Japan-style "regulatory sandbox" to temporarily suspend regulations and allow companies to more easily test groundbreaking technology.

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