For all the talk of fully self-driving cars being years or decades away, or being impossible due to regulatory red tape, an actual robo-taxi is merely days away from launch. Nissan and Japanese telecom company DeNA will start a field test of driverless Easy Ride taxis in Japan on March 5, offering rides to passengers along a fixed 2.7-mile route between the Nissan headquarters and the Yokohama World Porters shopping center.
The very first Easy Ride prototypes will actually be autonomous Nissan Leafs rather than the NV200s shown in the video above, and Nissan plans to equip a wider range of vehicles with its autonomous technology.
This first trial route will represent one of the first baby steps toward a wider rollout of the Easy Ride robo-taxi. That expansion is planned for the early part of the next decade and will offer app-based door-to-door service, aiming for a range of features identical to that of a traditional taxi. This will include an interior-mounted interactive tablet screen that will respond to passenger voice commands and suggest destinations based on passenger requests.
“Using a dedicated mobile app, passengers can input what they want to do via text or voice and choose from a list of recommended destinations,” Nissan said. “An in-car tablet screen will show selections of nearly 500 recommended places of interest and events in the vicinity. Additionally, about 40 discount coupons for retailers and restaurants in the area are available for download on the participants’ own smartphones.”
The NV200-based Easy Ride taxis are close to how Nissan envisions robo-taxis evolving when it comes to serving large cities, offering an interior designed for several passengers and their luggage, as well as plenty of headroom. The sliding side doors, coupled with the walk-in style interior of the NV200, make it a better fit than the smaller Leaf given its ability to serve hotels and airports, along with an interior that takes inspiration from the legendary London cabs rather than four-door sedans more common in North America.
“The field test will enable Nissan and DeNA to learn from the experience of operating the Easy Ride service trial with public participation, as both companies look toward future commercial endeavors,” the automaker said. “Nissan and DeNA will also work to develop service designs for driverless environments, expanded service routes, vehicle distribution logic, pick-up/drop-off processes and multilingual support. The companies aim to launch Easy Ride in a limited environment at first, and then introduce a full service in the early 2020s.”