Self-driving vehicles could soon make our commutes a whole lot easier, but their benefits don’t end there. In the future, autonomous vehicles could offer elderly people an added measure of mobility as well.
In Japan, where roughly a quarter of the country’s total population is over the age of 65, senior mobility has become an especially important issue in recent years. In some rural parts of Japan, more than half of the population is over 65.
Now, in an effort to ensure its elderly citizens are able to access medical, banking and retail services, Japan is launching a trial program that will bring self-driving buses to rural communities like Nishikata, located about 71 miles north of Tokyo. In Nishikata, where bus and taxi service is severely limited, the self-driving buses will be a valuable asset to elderly residents who have struggled to make the trip to and from Tokyo in the past.
The first phase of the self-driving bus trials brought six driverless Robot Shuttles to Nishikata. These buses ferried elderly citizens of Nishikata from a nearby service hub to a municipal health facility and back. So far, the buses have been well-received by their passengers, although a few expressed interest in seeing them move a little faster. Currently, the buses are only traveling at a very conservative speed of about 6 miles per hour.
Future trials will expand the bus service to other rural communities, and continue to test operational safety in a variety of road conditions. Before too long, we may see self-driving shuttle buses getting put to work in retirement communities here in America as well.