TOKYO -- Yahoo Japan is entering the field of self-driving vehicles, with plans to bring low-cost bus service to thinly populated areas by applying big-data and mapping technologies.
The company is investing 500 million yen ($4.49 million) in SB Drive and participating in the SoftBank Group unit's autonomous-bus project. Engineers have already been dispatched.
With the deal, Yahoo Japan takes just under 50% of outstanding shares to become the top shareholder after SoftBank, which has invested an additional 200 million yen.
Yahoo Japan believes that it can contribute to the project, given the internet giant's emphasis on location, weather and event information services. It can also analyze the masses of data generated by sensors installed around town to gauge such variables as foot traffic. The goal is to use the information to decide on the number of buses and the best routes.
SoftBank formed SB Drive in 2016 as a joint venture with Advanced Smart Mobility. SB Drive hopes to begin fully driverless bus testing in 2018 and is targeting commercialization in 2020.