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Japanese tech group DeNA takes mobile to driverless buses

DeNA's "robot shuttle" service will debut next month at a shopping center in Chiba.

TOKYO -- DeNA, a Japanese company known for mobile gaming, is hopping onto a new business with self-driving buses.

The company will provide a "robot shuttle" service beginning next month at a shopping center near Tokyo, DeNA said Thursday. With help from wireless carrier NTT Docomo, the company aims eventually to expand use of the buses from private property, such as malls and factory and university campuses, to public roads.

DeNA sees an avenue into driverless vehicles in the network technologies the company has developed for online games boasting millions of users.

"The device may be cars instead of computers and mobile phones, but our service will remain the same," Hiroshi Nakajima, general manager of DeNA's automotive business, told reporters.

Developed in conjunction with French venture EasyMile, the electric shuttles seat six and travel at up to 40kph. DeNA initially will put them into service at the Aeon Mall Makuhari New City in nearby Chiba.

Deploying these buses on public roads will entail further advances in communication with other vehicles and roadway infrastructure. DeNA and Docomo will begin testing the shuttles on public streets in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka.

With driverless cars, even a split-second delay in data transmission may make the difference between life and death. Docomo is a leading developer of a fifth-generation mobile communications network 100 times faster than the current standard. It aims to have a working 5G service by 2020.

Information technology companies eventually will sit atop the driverless-car industry pyramid, predicts Sebastian Thrun, the artificial-intelligence researcher who led the development of Google's self-driving vehicle. DeNA's strength in data processing technologies makes it a potentially attractive partner for automakers pursuing the same goal.


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