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Autopilot bus test underway on 350-meter section in central Tokyo

The autopilot bus is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on March 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Michinaga)

TOKYO -- A demonstration experiment on a self-driving bus is underway in the central Tokyo district of Marunouchi in Chiyoda Ward until March 14.

    The experiment began on March 8 and it was shown to the media the following day. Pedestrians use the vehicular road on Marunouchi Naka-dori street, where the test is being conducted, as the street is a vehicle-free area during daytime. According to the group organizing the experiment, carrying out a self-driving test under such conditions is rare.

    The test is being conducted by the Council for Area Development and Management of Otemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho, which comprises companies and others in the neighborhood, and Japanese telecom giant SoftBank's subsidiary Boldly Inc. (formerly SB Drive), which develops autonomous driving technology.

    The bus makes five to eight round trips a day on an about 350-meter straight section between the Marunouchi Building and the Marunouchi Park Building at a speed of about 6 kilometers per hour. The bus stops at one location on the way. It runs on the right side of the street, and automatically stops when people walk or cross the street in front of the bus. Up to six people can ride the vehicle, and two attendants are on the bus in case of trouble. Those who want to take a test ride need to make a reservation on the internet.

    The organizers expect some 500 people will take a test ride by March 14, and intends to hear their opinions on the experience.

    A 48-year-old woman working for a nearby company who took a test ride on March 9 said: "The bus matches the city's atmosphere. It ran more smoothly than I had imagined, and I think it's great for sightseeing."

    (Japanese original by Tatsuya Michinaga, Business News Department)

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