TOKYO -- SoftBank Group plans to develop an automated driving system for small buses and trucks with an eye toward selling and leasing them starting in 2018.
In April, SoftBank will acquire a 40% equity stake in Advanced Smart Mobility, a venture business founded by former Toyota Motor engineer and others to develop automated driving technologies. The telecommunications and Internet company will offer its proprietary high-speed telecom, information security and other technologies for the development of a control system for automated driving.
On Friday, SoftBank and Advanced Smart Mobility will also establish a new company, SB Drive, for selling and leasing vehicles with automated driving functions.
The project will develop the control system for buses and trucks for regular services that take preset routes, making them easier for automatic driving than owner-driven cars and taxi cabs having no preset driving routes.
Wages paid to drivers account for nearly 70% of expenditures to run fixed-route buses, and bus operators, including local governments, face the problem of the aging of drivers and depopulation. SoftBank therefore expects automated buses to find a ready market.
SoftBank and Advanced Smart Mobility will jointly develop core technologies for the control system, such as those to detect obstacles, accelerate and decelerate vehicles, and steer them.
In addition to selling and leasing buses and trucks equipped with automated driving functions, SoftBank plans to install them in existing vehicles. Vehicles retrofitted with such functions are expected to sell for less than double their regular prices.
The government plans to allow automatically driven vehicles to run on public roads by 2020.
While major automakers are developing the needed technologies, video game developer DeNA is undertaking testing of an automatically driven taxi jointly with robotics venture firm ZMP.