Amid problems of labor shortages and rural isolation, Japan is relaxing its traffic laws to allow autonomous delivery robots to take over the streets.
Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with nearly 30 percent of its citizens over the age of 65. Many live in isolated rural areas with no easy access to daily necessities.
Labor shortages in its cities and new rules limiting overtime for truckers also make it difficult for businesses to meet delivery demands.
Self-driving robots are being touted as a possible solution.
“The labor shortage in transportation will be a challenge in the future,” said Dai Fujikawa, an engineer at electronics giant Panasonic, which is testing delivery robots in Tokyo and nearby Fujisawa.
“I hope our robots will be used to work where they are needed and help ease the labor crisis,” he told AFP.
Japanese robotics company ZMP has partnered with giants such as Japan Post Holdings in its trials of delivery robots in Tokyo.
Its ‘Deliro’ robot has found success serving pedestrians and snacks on a street outside Tokyo. When intercepted by passers-by, it is programmed to show a teary eye.
People in Japan have responded positively to the move so far.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Naoko Kamimura said after buying cough drops from Panasonic’s Hakobo.
“Human store clerks may feel more confident but with robots, you can shop more carefree. Even when you think nothing’s worth buying, you can just shop without feeling guilty.” can leave.”
‘The spread of robots will be gradual’
However, officials are not convinced that Japanese roads will be filled with robots anytime soon, given the pressure to protect human employment.
“We don’t expect drastic changes immediately, because jobs are at stake,” said Hiroaki Kanda, an official at the trade ministry that promotes the technology.
Experts agree that “the proliferation of robots will be more of a gradual process”.
The rules mean that the maximum speed for the robot is set at 6 km/h to reduce “the potential for serious injury in the event of a collision”, according to Yutaka Uchimura, professor of robotic engineering at the Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT). .
Panasonic says its “Hacobo” robot can detect obstacles and autonomously decide when to turn and stop.
It is also monitored by the Fujisawa Control Center, which will automatically be alerted via cameras whenever the robots become stuck or stalled by obstacles.
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