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Business trends

Yamato and Rakuten to test delivery robots on Japan's public roads

Panasonic and tech startup ZMP also on board with government project

The project is slated to finish by March 2020 and may result in changes to Japan's Road Traffic Act.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Yamato Transport and Rakuten are among a group of companies set to partner with the Japanese government to test unmanned delivery robots on public roads.

The government will set up a council of officials from the public and private sectors next week to identify potential issues, including liability in the event of accidents and how to maintain safety.

The group will also examine operating rules that could eventually be added to the Road Traffic Act.

It is hoped that the robots will alleviate the labor shortage in Japan's logistics sector, as well as create new business opportunities.

The robots are equipped with cameras and GPS to deliver goods without human intervention. Tests are scheduled to finish by March 2020.

Council members will include officials from real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate, Japan Post, electronics maker Panasonic and ZMP, a Tokyo self-driving technology company.

Officials from the National Police Agency, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and local governments will also sit on the council.

The rapidly growing online retail sector has put pressure on logistics operations worldwide, which are threatened by a shortage of labor.

In China, major e-tailer JD.com has introduced robot deliveries, while U.S.-based startup Starship Technologies has launched robot pizza delivery services in the U.K. and Germany.

Japan is feeling the heat as the race for automated delivery technology intensifies.

The government will use the tests to establish the legal framework for operating the robots on public roads. This is likely to include revising the Road Traffic Act, under which delivery robots are deemed self-driving vehicles and as such are not allowed to operate on public roads or sidewalks.

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