TOKYO -- Yamato Transport and DeNA are joining forces to conduct field trials of a door-to-door parcel delivery service using self-driving vehicles.
The two Japanese companies told reporters Wednesday they would work together to develop an autonomous vehicle and then conduct a year of tests on public roads starting in March.
The partnership reflects a dovetailing of interests. DeNA's bread and butter is its mobile portal and platform for smartphone games, but the company sees self-driving cars as a new business pillar. Yamato's delivery service volume has soared 50% in a decade to reach 1.7 billion parcels in fiscal 2015 amid the explosive growth in online shopping. But with lower delivery fees and higher labor costs, operating profit has barely budged over those same 10 years. Autonomous vehicles promise to lower Yamato's delivery costs.
The Yamato Holdings unit expects that self-driving vehicles will let the company make greater use of women and the elderly as parcel delivery personnel. Yamato also should find workers for early morning and late-night shifts more easily, making its delivery service even more convenient for customers.
For the field trials, Yamato and DeNA will develop the vehicles and operate them inside one of the government-designated deregulation zones, in which self-driving cars are allowed to run on public roads.
For safety, the test vehicles will operate in self-driving mode only along parts of the delivery routes and will have a driver behind the wheel at all times. But Yamato envisions a delivery service using vehicles that are fully autonomous. Customers would use smartphones to specify where and when they want packages delivered, and the vehicles would depart from the distribution stations loaded with parcels and follow those instructions.
Yamato and DeNA also plan to test a shopping service. When people place orders online, a self-driving vehicle would go to the various stores and pick up the products before delivering them to the home. Yamato envisions a service using unmanned vehicles carrying parcel boxes. Clerks at each store would place the items in the boxes, with customers taking the parcels themselves when the vehicles arrive at their homes.
DeNA teamed with robot development startup ZMP to test a driverless taxi on public roads in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Fujisawa in February and March, and DeNA is partnering with France's EasyMile to launch a shuttle service using self-driving buses in Chiba starting in August.