Autonomous driving verification testing progress in Japan

DeNA and Yamato Transport lectures at the TU Automotive Japan 2017



Yamato’s delivery vehicle “Roboneko Yamato” (Source:Yamato Transport)

  The "TU Automotive Japan 2017" event was held in Tokyo in October 2017. This report covers the contents of the lecture given by Hiroshi Nakajima, Executive Officer, SVP, and Director of the Automotive Division of DeNA Co.,Ltd. (hereafter abbreviated as DeNA) , entitled “Shaping the Future of Mobility made Possible by a New Mobility Service Platform,” as well as the lecture given by Kazuo Hatakeyama, Manager, Department of System Development for Network, Division of Network Business Development, Yamato Transport Co., Ltd. (hereafter referred to as Yamato), entitled “Advanced Technology Changing the Future of Logistics.”

 DeNA’s Nakajima introduced various topics regarding the company’s automotive-related businesses, such as its peer-to-peer car sharing service “Anyca” (in operation), verification testing for its autonomous driving compact “Robot Shuttle” bus, and its taxi dispatching app, “TakuBeru” (verification testing concluded). DeNA is also supporting verification testing of Yamato’s “Roboneko Yamato” introduced by Mr. Hatakeyama of Yamato. The “Robot Shuttle” is scheduled to start commercial services as early as 2019.

   As a “mobility service provider,” DeNA will support the development of a new platform that will serve as the base for new mobility solutions, as well as the business model for this platform. Whether with human or autonomous driving, the development of new mobility is unique to DeNA, which is why Nissan, which will soon be conducing verification testing of driverless cars in Japan’s strategic special zones, selected DeNA as its partner based on DeNA’s accomplishments.

  Yamato (as well as Sagawa Express, the second major courier service in Japan), overhauled its pricing structure for the first time in 27 years between October and November 2017. As securing enough drivers has become increasingly difficult in Japan due to nationwide labor shortage, to maintain and expand its courier network and to ensure a healthy working environment for its employees Yamato believes it needed to revise its pricing.

 Conventionally, Yamato has developed personnel in-house. However, Yamato now believes that to support its diversified needs with a declining workforce, it must utilize new technologies. Therefore, for the first time, the company has allied with an external organization, selecting DeNA as its partner.

 Yamato and DeNA have jointly developed the Roboneko Yamato delivery vehicle and delivery system. In April 2017, the companies began a series of road tests that is scheduled to last for a year. By dispatching the Roboneko Yamato at a specified time and place designated by the customer, the two companies are planning to eliminate re-deliveries. Additionally, although humans are currently used to drive the Roboneko Yamato delivery vehicles, there is a limit to the endurance of drivers and the number of delivery routes in conventional courier services, so the two companies are considering to increase the number of women and older drivers. Yamato and DeNA plan to implement autonomous driving in scarcely populated areas and regions where there are a shortage of drivers.

DeNA’s fundamental policy on its automobile-related business
(Source: DeNA’s financial report briefing for individual investors held in November 2017)
Purpose of verification testing for Roboneko Yamato (Source:Yamato)

Related report:Two autonomous driving trends: Level 3 for highways and Level 4 for ordinary roads  (August 2017)


DeNA: Peer-to-peer car sharing service, Anyca

The first vehicle from Geely Automobile’s new Lynk & Co brand, the 01, features car sharing functions as a standard feature.
(Exhibited at the Shanghai Motor Show 2017)

 “Anyca” is a car sharing service that matches smartphone owners who want to share their vehicles when they are not using them, with drivers who want to use a car of their choice, whenever needed. For owners, they can share a car lying unused in their garage to help reduce maintenance fees, allowing them to own a car at a lower cost. Car types are mostly high-end or recreational use vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series and i8. Most users who borrow vehicles using the service are males in their 30s, and DeNA expects that market segment will expand to users in their 40s.

  Currently, there are 90,000 registered members, and 3,500 or more vehicles (600 vehicle types) available for sharing. The service has accumulated a total of approximately 40,000 days of car sharing.

  In November 2017, DeNA partnered with the used car dealership chain Gulliver (renamed to IDOM in 2016) and the parking lot sharing service “akippa Inc”. Consumers who purchase vehicles at Gulliver stores are introduced to Anyca and akippa’s services. A subtle trend can be seen in how consumers purchase and own vehicles, with an increase in users purchasing popular vehicles with the intent of using Anyca’s services (as a lender) to reduce maintenance fees.

  Incidentally, NTT docomo launched its “d Car Share” service, which includes peer-to-peer sharing, in addition to vehicles provided by businesses in November 2017. Likewise, China’s Geely Automobile released the first vehicle from its new brand “Lynk & Co,” featuring car sharing in November 2017.



DeNA: Verification testing of the autonomous driving compact Robot Shuttle bus, implementation planned from 2019

  The autonomous driving compact Robot Shuttle bus is a driverless transportation system service designed to transport people short distances (last one mile), connecting people from the closest traffic hub to their destination. Over the mid to long-term, by utilizing advanced technologies such as autonomous driving and AI, DeNA aims to resolve the issue of transportation in rural communities where elderly residents struggle with transportation as the population ages and in new towns.

  The Robot Shuttle is a driverless electric bus manufactured by the French manufacturer EasyMile, capable of seating a maximum of 12 passengers. The bus drives autonomously on a pre-programmed route based on map data created in advance, utilizing cameras, multiple sensors, and GPS to monitor the vehicle’s location. The bus has a top speed of 40 km/h, but has been driven at speeds of 10 to 20 km/h in road testing.

  Currently, verification testing has been conducted in six regions in Japan. The Robot Shuttle is anticipated to be implemented in 2019 in areas with large open spaces, such as factories and universities, sparsely populated areas, tourist spots, and commercial facilities.

Robot Shuttle (practical testing in Yokohama, Oita, and Lake Tazawa in Senboku)

Source: DeNA

  • Kyushu University Ito Campus: Kyushu University’s Ito campus has a site area of 275 hectares (roughly equivalent to the size of 60 Tokyo Domes), making it the largest university campus in Japan, where approximately 16,000 students and faculty reside. The campus has hills and traffic lights, as well as various forms of traffic such as buses, passenger vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Demonstration experiments for autonomous driving began sequentially in December 2016, establishing safety measures and driving systems, etc., and are targeted for implementation in the second half in 2018. Kyushu University, NTT Docomo, DeNA, and the city of Fukuoka are working together to realize Robot Shuttle services.
  • City of Yokohama: The city of Yokohama and DeNA started the “project to resolve regional traffic issues using unmanned driving services and AI” in April 2017 to consider new methods of regional transportation. At the outset of the initiative, DeNA and Yokohama city held a test drive event of the Robot Shuttle for the general public on April 27-28, 2017 at the Kanazawa Zoo (Kanazawa Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture).
     In the future, Yokohama City is scheduled to conduct verification testing on public roads using manned driving in FY 2018, and demonstrate driverless autonomous driving on public roads in FY 2019. Furthermore, in anticipation of hosting the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Yokohama City will cooperate with local bus companies and will aim to realize autonomous driving buses on public roads.

     In addition, verification testing of the Robot Shuttle has been conducted in three regions where the population is decreasing rapidly to resolve the issue of residents struggling with transportation, a problem which is expected to increase due to the shortage of drivers and the termination of public bus transportation services. Verification testing also has been conducted at the massive Aeon Shopping Mall Makuhari Shintoshin, located in Chiba City, where shoppers used the Robot Shuttle to travel within the grounds of the facility.



DeNA: TakuBeru, smart taxi dispatching system

  From September 12 to October 31 2017, DeNA, in partnership with Yokohama City and the Kanagawa Taxi Association, conducted road tests in several areas of Yokohama City for the TakuBeru taxi-dispatching app that utilizes AI technology. The project aims to increase the matching efficiency of taxis and passengers, creating an environment where passengers can find a taxi quicker when needed, to help resolve the issue of taxi driver shortages, as well as explore new demands for taxis.

 Passengers can request to have a taxi dispatched to a location of their choice. The user’s smartphone displays information on the taxi being dispatched and its estimated arrival time. The app also features functions to allow the driver and passenger to monitor each other's locations, as well as send fixed messages. Payment can be settled online or in the car. Online payment, where passengers register their credit card beforehand, allows for smooth payment when the passenger disembarks from the taxi.

  DeNA aims to implement the service from January 2018 in Kanagawa Prefecture, with plans to sequentially implement the service in regions other than Kanagawa Prefecture.

  The taxi industry is cautious of ride sharing, and the Kanagawa Taxi Association states it will “implement IT to construct transportation services where ride sharing is not a threat.”

  Incidentally, in November 2017, Uber Technologies, which is struggling in expanding its ride sharing business in Japan, announced that it would focus on its taxi dispatching service (launched four years ago) in Japan.

Implementation of a demand-forecasting system in TakuBeru

  TakuBeru plans to implement a demand forecasting system utilizing AI technology. Big data collected from vehicles in operation and various other data related to taxi demand will be analyzed to send taxi demand forecast information to drivers currently not carrying a passenger.



DeNA: Cooperation with Nissan on verification testing of driverless vehicles

  In the near future, DeNA plans to cooperate with Nissan to begin technical verification testing in Japan using Nissan’s autonomous driving vehicles. With DeNA being the mobility services provider in this joint development project with Nissan, DeNA will be responsible for the design and operation of the Internet services, as well as negotiating and coordinating with the various related entities. The two companies will verify their business model for a traffic service platform utilizing driverless driving by 2020.

  The partnership plans to be the first in Japan to have unmanned vehicles driving alongside general vehicles on public roads. Initially, the evaluations will be limited to the National Strategic Special Zones located around Haneda Airport, but by 2020, they plan to expand the test areas to public roads.



Yamato: Practical experiments of the on-demand, last-one-mile delivery system using Roboneko Yamato

 Yamato and Sagawa Express, the second largest courier service in Japan, overhauled their pricing structure for the first time in 27 years from October to November 2017. Prices have been revised due to the increasing difficulty in securing enough drivers due to a nationwide labor shortage, as well as to maintain and develop courier networks, and to ensure a healthy working environment for its employees.

  Yamato will not change its basic style where a driver delivers packages, but has began initiatives aimed at reducing re-deliveries by placing delivery lockers in stations and retail outlets. Furthermore, as a new project starting in April 2017 and scheduled to last a year, Yamato has partnered with DeNA and begun practical testing for its Roboneko Yamato service in specific areas (roughly 26,000 households) of Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture. The Roboneko Yamato delivery vehicle has eight storages boxes, and the service delivers packages at a time and place designated by the recipient. Yamato will implement two services: Roboneko Delivery and Roboneko Store.

A delivery vehicle driving to a location designated by the recipient The delivery vehicle has eight storage boxes
(Two boxes are in the back-right of the photo)
The recipient personally removes the package Roboneko Store pamphlet

Source: Yamato Transport

1)Roboneko Delivery (On demand delivery-Roboneko Delivery-):
   Roboneko Yamato plans to make the last-one-mile system an on-demand system, and will evaluate how society responds to this new delivery method.
・A notice will be sent via a dedicated smartphone app to recipients when the package is scheduled to be delivered. Customers who receive the notice can then designate a delivery time (specified in 10-minute increments) and delivery place, as well as can select to use services other than Roboneko.
・When the Roboneko vehicle is 3 minutes away from its destination, it will notify the recipient again that it will arrive soon.
・Customers open the Roboneko’s storage box themselves using a PIN number or barcode verification and remove the package from the storage box (the driver does not assist the customer).
・Through this method, re-deliveries almost have been eliminated.

2)Roboneko Store (Online Shopping delivery-Roboneko Store-):
・A plan that effectively utilizes the time when Roboneko Delivery is not in use.
・Currently, 20 local food stores have partnered with Roboneko Store to deliver products as quickly as roughly 40 minutes after the order has been received.
・Delivery fee is free if the customer purchases a minimum of JPY 3,000 per order. If a customer’s purchase is less than JPY 3,000, the delivery fee is JPY 324.

  Conventional courier services are typically handled by male drivers 20 to 40 years old, but the Roboneko Yamato lowers the hurdle for physical fitness (driver fatigue) and the need to follow a delivery route, leading Yamato to consider hiring more women and older drivers. Currently, nine new drivers have been hired, four of whom are women, with none having prior courier experience.

  In the future, Yamato plans to expand its horizons for employment in urban areas by utilizing the benefits of Roboneko Yamato, as well as implement autonomous driving in sparsely populated areas and regions where there is a shortage of drivers.

Key word
TU Automotive Japan 2017, DeNA, Yamato Transport, Robot Shuttle, Roboneko Yamato

<Automobile Industry Portal MarkLines>