Photo courtesy of Nissan

A driverless Nissan Leaf is Japan's first robo-taxi.


I’ve driven some of the latest electric and fuel cell vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf and Toyota Mirai, and even experienced the most advanced autonomous driving technology on public roads. But nothing prepares you for a silent, electric, driverless robo-taxi loose on the streets of Yokohama, Japan. This cab feels more like a time machine than a current day form of transport.

It feels like life copying art. Future art. As the driverless, yes, I’ll repeat that, as the driverless Nissan Leaf taxi pulls up, you feel like you’ve been transported to a scene in Will Smith’s movie “i-Robot” in which his car is fully autonomous. But this is not a movie set. These are public roads in the port city of Yokohama.

Nissan and DeNA, a major Japanese provider of mobile and online services, announced  a joint venture this week to test "Easy Ride," a state-of-the-art robo-vehicle mobility service app on public roads. Japan’s first-ever, self-driving robo-taxis have started a complex test regimen in the Minatomirai area of Yokohama offering multi-language mobility to passengers traveling in a tightly controlled test route of about 4.5km around Nissan’s global headquarters.


Using a dedicated, easily downloadable mobile app, passengers can input their desired activity or location using text or voice commands, choosing from a list of recommended destinations. An in-car tablet displays approximately 500 places of interest and events in the area and the app also offers passengers up to 40 discount coupons for shops and restaurants along the route.

Photo courtesy of Nissan


It is a perfect marriage as Nissan brings the latest in electric powertrain and autonomous driving technology to the table while DeNA provides the connectivity and specially developed mobile app. To improve the service, passengers will be asked to complete a survey about their overall experience, usage of content and coupons from local restaurants and preferred pricing for the Easy Ride service.

According to a Nissan spokesperson, the two companies will also work to develop mapping for driverless environments, vehicle distribution logic and more efficient pick-up and drop off processes.

This real-world public road field test will allow Nissan and DeNA to learn from operating the Easy Ride app using members of the public, with the long-term goal to realize commercial ventures. They will fine-tune their electric, self-driving taxi service in a controlled environment at first, and then introduce a more comprehensive robo-taxi and delivery service in the early 2020s.