Japan has the largest proportion of senior citizens of anywhere on Earth, and the country is coming up with innovative ways to care for this growing demographic. This includes building robot companions, whimsical retirement communities, and most recently, a fleet of driverless buses. As Reuters reports, trials of autonomous shuttles are underway in aging rural communities in Japan.
One such area is Nishikata, where about a third of the town’s population of 6300 are age 65 or older. Public transit isn’t as accessible there as it is in Tokyo, 71 miles south, and driving just isn’t an option for many older residents. These new vehicles from Japanese software maker DeNA Co. are designed to transport seniors to shops, banks, medical centers, and other places they would have trouble reaching otherwise.
The company’s Robot Shuttle features six seats and travels at speeds around 6 mph. The long-term plan is to work with the government to turn highway rest stops into points where elderly riders can board and be driven to their destinations.
Nishikata’s elderly population numbers represent Japan overall, but in some remote communities, seniors are already the majority. This top-heaviness is only expected to get worse in coming decades. If the shuttle system trials are a success, Japan could see driverless bus systems throughout its rural areas as soon as 2020.