The technology will let vehicles detect lane lines and any obstacles based on surrounding images, as well as control acceleration, deceleration and steering to maintain the appropriate distance from other cars. The companies are planning to conduct experiments with fixed-route buses as early as this year, with the ultimate aim of marketing the finished product to automakers.
In self-driving, even a small data transmission lag could lead to an accident. So the ultrahigh-speed 5G communication technology -- which is said to be 100 times faster than existing LTE technology -- is seen as essential. Docomo is an international leader in 5G technology and aims to roll out the service in 2020.
Buses were picked for initial tests because their fixed routes make them easier to control. The tests will take place on the campus of Kyushu University as well as public roads in Fukuoka.
In developing autonomous driving technologies, cross-industry collaboration is common. DeNA is also working with Tokyo robotics startup ZMP on a driverless car technology. U.S. search engine giant Google is working with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. And Docomo rival KDDI is collaborating with Toyota Motor.
A cyberattack on an internet-connected car could cause a serious accident. Docomo seeks to capitalize on its experience protecting its mobile network and customer data. As the Japanese mobile market stagnates amid a declining population and other factors, Docomo is cultivating a new earnings source.