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Self-driving vehicles to offer multiple uses

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TOKYO >> The Japanese government plans to begin testing autonomous driving services around the country beginning April, through partnerships across a wide variety of industries.

Local governments can submit proposals in April, and selections will be made in June.

Primary priorities of self-driving experiments thus far have been to reduce traffic congestion in urban areas and provide transportation to seniors in regional areas.

Now, the focus turns to implementing the vehicles for services people can use in their daily lives. Residents could use a smartphone app, for instance, to commute to work or school in a self- driving vehicle, or to have a self-driving bus deliver goods from a supermarket.

These services could be used as a means of transportation in areas with few public options. In addition, nursing- care service providers could put their self-driving vehicles to use during off-hours commuting people for a fee, and monetizing extra space by using it for goods to be delivered.

Some municipalities are already experiementing, with an eye toward expanding the use of such services.

In Kamishihoro, Hokkaido, for example, a self-driving bus both carries passengers and delivers goods from local supermarkets. Users make a reservation or order food and other products on a smartphone app.

The city of Otsu provides services in English for foreigners through an app that links self-driving buses with information for visitors.

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