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Business Trends

Self-driving cars planned for 2 Japanese airports

Marubeni and startup ZMP team up to boost efficiency as travelers increase

ZMP is the company behind the self-driving taxis that debuted in Tokyo this year. 

TOKYO -- Japanese trading house Marubeni will test out automated vehicles at airports serving the Tokyo and Nagoya areas next month, teaming with Tokyo-based autonomous driving startup ZMP.

The partners will set up a joint venture this month to carry out the trials at Narita Airport outside Tokyo and Chubu Airport near Nagoya starting in late January, targeting a 2020 start to operations. As visitors to Japan increase, the self-operating vehicles are expected to improve efficiency and help ease labor shortages.

Marubeni will own 66% of the venture, with ZMP holding the remaining 34%. It will be capitalized at several hundred million yen (100 million yen = $888,000).

The trials will test how well the vehicles ferry cargo and passengers from the terminal to the runway, using the airport ground operation support system Marubeni developed with a Swiss company. The companies may market the system to other businesses.

ZMP has tested automated vehicles on public roads. With little risk of pedestrians getting in the way, airports are a suitable environment for automated vehicles. But a lack of landmark buildings necessitates the use of high-resolution maps and GPS.

Other companies like Toyota Motor group member Toyota Tsusho and SoftBank Group's SB Drive are moving to conduct similar trials this fiscal year, with backing from Japan's Transportation Ministry. Some Japanese startups are developing technologies for transporting passengers within terminals.

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