In the United States and Europe, self-driving cars have been driving on public roads for years now, but not in Japan―at least, not until 2013. When Shinzo Abe took over the government, the situation changed significantly in summer that year: Japanese firms announced their self-driving prototypes, and government agencies implemented policy to allow self-driving cars on public roads. As government and industry recognized the need to catch up to forerunners US and Europe, public and private support in Japan soared.
In the industrialized West self-driving cars are already being extensively driven on public roads. In 2012, Google Corp. of the US was authorized to trial its semiautonomous car on public roads in Nevada, and public road trials have also been authorized in other states including California and Florida. Another fifteen states are considering the idea. Audi AG of Germany, a member of the German Volkswagen group, has also received a Nevada license plate. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG of Germany (BMW) has been authorized for public road trials in Germany, likewise in Spain.
There was little public activity in Japan in 2012, but in 2013 all three major Japanese auto manufacturers made key announcements. On September 26, 2013, Nissan Motor Company of Japan announced that it had received a license plate allowing its self-driving prototype on the road (Fig. 1). In early October Toyota Motor Corp. of Japan announced a prototype capable of being driven no-hands in a single expressway lane, and demonstrated it on Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway (Fig. 2). Also in October Honda Motor Co., Ltd. of Japan announced a self-driving car prototype. In November, all three firms drove their vehicles down ordinary roads in front of the National Diet Building.