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Government eyes drone delivery, telemedicine tech by 2018

TOKYO -- Japan plans to permit limited drone package delivery by 2018 and road tests of self-driving cars by 2017, cutting red tape to encourage investment in promising new technologies.

     The new drone rules initially will allow shipments to isolated areas with sparse medical facilities. Drones will be able to carry prescription drugs, blood for transfusions and other urgent items to patients by 2018.

     Other applications to be covered will include flying drones with mobile phones over construction sites to take and send pictures. The government will devise plans by summer to expand frequency bands and boost the output of wireless base stations.

     The looser rules will allow test drives of cars requiring minimal driver input on highways by 2017. The government seeks to use unmanned buses and taxis during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to ferry travelers between Narita Airport and the Tokyo waterfront, where stadiums and the Olympic Village will be located.

     Regulations on telemedicine will be eased as well. Japan aims to have technology using artificial intelligence to diagnose conditions based on images of the patient's skin brought to market within three years. Review guidelines for diagnosis software, including AI, will be established by spring to promote speedy approval.

     The plans will be discussed Thursday at a meeting that will include Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda and Paul Misener, a vice president at


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