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Japan's first demonstration experiment on 5G self-driving buses gets into gear

A self-driving bus used in a demonstration experiment is seen in Maebashi on Feb. 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Maebashi Municipal Government)

MAEBASHI -- Japan's first demonstration experiment on self-driving buses using 5G technology commenced here on Feb. 15.

    5G will apparently improve safety by increasing the resolution of images from cameras installed around the vehicle and on the road. At the same time, technological verification of the face recognition function will be carried out to enable cashless payments. Both of these technologies are targeted for practical use in fiscal 2022.

    The Maebashi Municipal Government, Gunma University and other organizations are conducting the tests. The route is approximately one kilometer between JR Maebashi Station and Jomo Electric Railway's Chuo Maebashi Station, where a verification experiment using the 4G/LTE communication standard has continued since fiscal 2018.

    As in the past, the speed of the bus is set at a maximum 19 kilometers per hour, and the body of the bus is equipped with a camera, a laser sensor for detecting obstacles and a Global Positioning System (GPS) to control the accelerator, brakes and other operations according to traffic lights and the surrounding conditions.

    Associate professor Takeki Ogitsu (left) of Gunma University's Center for Research on Adoption of NextGen Transportation Systems explains the images projected in the remote-control room. (Mainichi/Atsuko Suzuki)

    In the latest experiment, two cameras and laser sensors were newly added to the road side, enabling the bus to accurately grasp road conditions around Chuo Maebashi Station, which had been a blind spot for the bus.

    However, since completely unmanned driving is not legally allowed, the driver's seat will be occupied by a driver from Nippon Chuo Bus Co. based in Maebashi, which operates the bus, and the driver will switch to manual driving when necessary. In addition, a remote-control room set up at Gunma University's Center for Research on Adoption of NextGen Transportation Systems will monitor the system and respond to situations where it is difficult to make decisions based on automatic driving alone.

    Associate professor Takeki Ogitsu of Gunma University, who is in charge of research and development of self-driving buses, said, "5G will enable data transmission with a large capacity and little delay, which will improve the safety and efficiency of buses. We would like to conduct a variety of verifications for practical use."

    The demonstration experiments will continue through Feb. 28.

    (Japanese original by Atsuko Suzuki, Maebashi Bureau)

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