Japan has an Olympic dream - that Japan by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be able to amaze the world again by showcasing the future of travel; state-of-the-art self-driving cars. Only days prior to the first Tokyo Olympics in 1964 did the groundbreaking high-speed railway Shinkansen go into service. Shinkansen was able to reduce the duration of the trip between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan’s two main economic centers, by more than 3 hours. The Olympic organizing committee has publicly stated that the 2020 Olympics is not only a sports event, but also an opportunity to showcase innovative technologies and a symbol for revitalizing the economy. Despite being a leader in many industrial fields, Japanese companies still struggle to remain at the forefront of innovation in competition with international peers. The Japanese government has launched a Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP) led by the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. The program has identified 10 key areas to address the most pressing social problems and stimulate the Japanese economy, one of them being automated driving systems with 2.5 billion JPY invested in 2014, 2015 respectively and 2.7 billion in 2016. Investment plans of the government indicate similar levels of R&D spending annually through 2020.

In a recent ranking of leading companies within the area of driverless technology there are no Japanese players. Instead are companies like Google, Volvo, Daimler, Tesla and Apple identified as the main frontrunners. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry acknowledges that the government needs to implement policies to enable the Japanese automotive industry to compete with technologies of overseas competitors and that concepts like the internet of things, artificial intelligence and self-driving technologies are key to unleash the full transportation system potential. The feeling that Japanese companies have fallen behind European and American automotive companies in the development of vehicle safety technology have increased incentives for Japanese companies to cooperate to prevent lagging behind also with regards to autonomous driving. This led to six major Japanese automotive companies and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) signing an agreement to collaborate on autonomous driving in March 2016. The panel will focus on common shared key areas for the development of autonomous driving in Japan; 3-D maps, communication, standards, ergonomics to mention a few.

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