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Toyota, Japanese university team up to trial autonomous transport service

Toyota Motor Corp. will expand its partnership with Japan's University of Tsukuba to include a pilot test of a transportation system using autonomous vehicles in Japan, the Nikkei Asian Review reported Oct. 8.

The government of Tsukuba City, north of Tokyo, will also take part in the project, the report said.

The partnership will co-develop a transport system that will employ self-driving, single-seat electric vehicles, according to the report. The vehicles reportedly will take passengers from their homes to the nearest bus stop, where they will then be able to transfer to autonomous, fuel-cell powered buses that will run on fixed routes within the city and to other destinations like Tokyo Station and Narita Airport.

Cameras and sensors will be installed on vehicles and bus stops along a route to collect data, which will then be used to measure congestion, the report said.

The test project is expected to launch in fiscal 2019, and will run until fiscal 2022, according to the report.

The latest announcement follows Toyota and the University of Tsukuba's partnership in 2017 that saw the opening of a research and development center for social planning at the university.

Toyota and the Tsukuba university aim to resolve the issue of elderly citizens being isolated from their communities through the project, the Nikkei said.

The report added that electronics and electrical equipment company Mitsubishi Electric Corp., IT services provider NEC Corp. and other companies with technologies linked to self-driving are also in talks to participate in the Toyota-led project.

The announcement comes shortly after Toyota entered into an agreement with tech giant SoftBank Group Corp. to form an on-demand mobility service in the country in a bid to optimize supply and demand in transportation.