Minamisoma bids for hosting demonstration area for autonomous driving

The Fukushima Prefecture city of Minamisoma announced on Dec. 14 that it will apply as a candidate for an area publicly sought by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) to demonstrate a road transport system featuring autonomous driving. The city is recommending its Odaka district for the projected demonstration area. If its application is accepted, AIST will conduct test runs of a manned self-driving bus in fiscal 2018 on a 5-kilometer route between JR Odaka Station and a new Odaka industrial technology high school opening next spring. Whether Minamisoma’s bid is successful or not is to be made known within fiscal 2016 ending next March. In the planned autonomous driving system, a bus will run on a sensor-imbedded road. The bus will be equipped with cameras and other devices, enabling its navigation without hitting obstacles. If Minamisoma is selected, initial test runs will be conducted in a closed area off-limits to people and vehicles in fiscal 2017. The project will shift to a demonstration experiment in fiscal 2018 where the bus will carry residents, including high school students. The city is considering using the system as a means of public transport in the future. An evacuation order issued after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was lifted last July for the bulk of Minamisoma, including the Odaka district. But progress has been slow in evacuees’ permanent returns to their homes in the district. The city is pinning high hopes on the project as a spur to post-disaster reconstruction. (Translated by Kyodo News)