Japan's Robot Taxi: 10 Things You Can Try - InformationWeek

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10/4/2015
10:25 AM
David Wagner
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Japan's Robot Taxi: 10 Things You Can Try

Japan plans on testing and deploying a fleet of automated taxis. That seems like a something we could have a lot of fun with.

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Japan's Robot Taxi, Inc., may have beaten Google and Uber to the automated car punch. The company plans on testing automated taxis next year in Japan with the hopes of deploying an entire fleet of autonomous taxis for the 2020 Olympic games. Imagine being an athlete or a visitor at the Olympics and getting from your hotel to the stadium in a driverless car.

It feels altogether fitting and proper that Japan gets to show this off first since Japan has given us so many great futurist visions through science fiction and anime. We'd expect no less from a nation that has already given us a hotel staffed entirely by robots.

One of the most interesting things about an automated taxi -- as opposed to an autonomous passenger car -- is that it needs artificial intelligence with an emphasis on customer service. It needs to be friendly, it has to be able to ask questions, and it will require connection to a cloud database for questions like "What's a good place to eat around here?" So, it isn't ony about testing the driving, but also testing the experience passeners have with whatever robot/disembodied voice they interact with in the taxi.

[ Take your taxi on a road trip and rock out. Read Google Self Driving Car: A Roadtrip Playlist. ]

Here's the question I have: Now that the future is here, what should we do with it? How is driving in an autonomous taxi different from being in a car with a driver? What fun can we have with them while they learn to deal with quirky humans? Here are 10 things that would be fun to do in an automated taxi:

10 Things to Do In a Robot Taxi

1. Confuse it by jumping in like a movie star and yelling "follow that car!"

2. Tip it by leaving some extra circuit boards and a quart of oil lying around in the back seat.

3. Go from your robot-staffed hotel, to your robot taxi, to a restaurant with no servers to avoid ever interacting with a real human.

4. Ask it to use some hay as a ramp and jump over a creek, like in Dukes of Hazzard. If it won't do it, try  it yourself by setting up some hay and destroying a bridge. Maybe the taxi will believe Google Maps and go for it.

(Image: SuperPCGam3r via YouTube)

(Image: SuperPCGam3r via YouTube)

5. Try to leave without paying to see if it locks you in. This is the biggest question I have about automated taxis. What are they allowed to do to make sure you pay? I'm sure they have cameras. But can they lock the doors on you? Drive you back to where you started? Introduce you to a friend named "Lenny"?

6. Ask it to take you on such a long trip you know it will need gas. Seriously, how does the thing fill itself up? Are there robot gas stations in Japan, too? Do you have to do it?

7. Test its programming by insulting it. Tell it that its mother was an Uber driver.

8. Yell "stop!" and see what it says.

9. When you get out of the car, say "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto." See if the car is programmed to get the joke. Annoy your friends.

(Image: Crazed Cats via Pinterest)

(Image: Crazed Cats via Pinterest)

10. As it pulls away, stick your foot out to see if it runs over you. Sue if you can.

What would you do?

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2015 | 12:57:28 PM
Re: the robots are coming, seriously
I want to know if the robot can be made courageous (or rude, pick one) to actually get anywhere in a big busy city. I can see the AI sitting there waiting to merge into traffic or change lanes for a very long time. Real cabbies are fearless.  :-)
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2015 | 7:09:24 AM
Payment
I would imagine payment for such vehicles would be completely electronic. You scan or swipe your card or phone before the journey begins and then whatever it costs is charged to you. Journeys will also be much cheaper since no driver has to be paid, so it should be a lot easier than it has been traditionally. Cash for definite is dead though.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2015 | 3:39:31 AM
Re: the robots are coming, seriously
"There is big space for imagination here. How smart these robots can be? Can they communicate with passengers without problems? Can it understand the real meaning of non-sense gossip and humous?"

Li Tan, Gossip and humor, what's the need for that? Machines need to understand the commands for easy navigation and control. If machine starts listening to all sort of talks, then it can lead to mislead communication.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
10/5/2015 | 3:35:54 AM
Real tome frequent Google Map updation
" Ask it to use some hay as a ramp and jump over a creek, like in Dukes of Hazzard. If it won't do it, try  it yourself by setting up some hay and destroying a bridge. Maybe the taxi will believe Google Maps and go for it."

David, in this case a regular update of Google map is required. Otherwise deviations and broken bridges can cause accidents!!
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2015 | 10:53:48 PM
Re: the robots are coming, seriously
Asking it to calculate the expected time to reach destination and whether, skynet has become self-aware as yet.

On the more serious note, it is interesting to ponder upon the implications that robot drivers will have on land value (especially, parking lots) and automated parking systems. I feel that these businesses will find it difficult because, a parking spot that is 5 minutes away is desirable only if a human has to drive the car to the spot. If the robot drives the car, a parking spot that is 30 minutes away might also work out and the cost of energy vs. the price of the parking spot would be the main trade-offs at play. 

 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2015 | 3:40:31 PM
Re: the robots are coming, seriously
There is big space for imagination here. How smart these robots can be? Can they communicate with passengers without problems? Can it understand the real meaning of non-sense gossip and humous?
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2015 | 3:17:37 PM
the robots are coming, seriously
I would really like to know whether such cars will have gifts for travelers such as a sake or sushi compartment.  I would also ask it whether it can change to a mechanize robot.  Japanese are crazy for such robots. I bet the drivers would look like a japanese cartoon character like ultraman or Godzilla, that will be awesome.
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