SoftBank subsidiary SB Drive has been selected to undertake trials of an autonomous transport system for the Okinawa region. The service is being run as part of an investigation into the feasibility and social acceptability of autonomous transport by Japan's cabinet office and will take place in an area of Nanjo City's Azama Suns Beach.
From the positioning video above its clear to see that SB Drive is targeting the movement of older people from rural to urban centres.
Whilst the application of technology is interesting, I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate. In this instance a bus driver does more than just drive the bus. There's the elements of social interaction, passenger care, safety and security to consider too.
And given the number of passengers and frequency of the service, how much does the cost of adding a driver make to the whole solution anyway?
As I've mentioned before, buses are effectively self-driving forms of transport. For urban transportation they solve a difficult problem in about the most efficient way possible.
Rural bus services are more difficult to solve thanks to the wider catchment areas and longer journeys. Neither of these issues relate to the presence of a driver and removing them from the service adds little value and doesn't solve any of the problems.
So in this respect its probably fair to say that the SB Drive / Cabinet Office experiment is technically interesting without providing very much information on how to solve any transport problems.