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Japan team tests self-driving amphibious bus, eyes use in rain disasters

The unmanned amphibious bus is tested at Lake Yamba-Agatsuma in Gunma Prefecture in this photo provided by the Nippon Foundation.

SAITAMA -- A Japanese engineering team is looking to use an autonomous amphibious bus to provide relief in future rain disasters after a recent successful test of the technology.

    Saitama Institute of Technology based in the Saitama Prefecture city of Fukaya, which develops cutting-edge self-driving technology, announced the test's success on April 29. Professor Daishi Watanabe, an image engineering and autopilot technology specialist, commented, "If it actually enters service, it can be used in times of disasters including torrential rains, which have occurred frequently in recent years."

    The university is developing autonomous buses with funding including a subsidy from the prefecture's Leading-Edge Industry Design Project. It has been conducting tests of "Level 2" self-driving technology, in which the brakes and accelerator are automatically controlled, on public roads, and of a remotely controlled bus on campus.

    The March 14 test at Lake Yamba-Agatsuma in neighboring Gunma Prefecture was part of a Nippon Foundation project aiming to reduce the number of accidents at sea and to ease the ship crew shortage. It was conducted by a consortium of five organizations including the Saitama Institute of Technology, the Naganohara Municipal Government in Gunma Prefecture, and Tokyo-based ITbook Holdings Co.

    The team installed a self-driving system for a bus on the Naganohara municipal amphibious bus Yamba Nyagaten-go, which is about 12 meters long and weighs some 11 metric tons. While being monitored remotely, the vehicle drove under computer control and entered the lake. After navigating in the water for roughly 2 kilometers in about 30 minutes, it returned to land. It successfully cleared a series of challenges including automatically detecting and maneuvering around obstacles, and switching between its boat and road modes.

    (Japanese original by Shoko Washizu, Saitama Bureau)

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