A self-driving vehicle that offers head spa treatment service conducts test runs on the premises of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s training center in Osaka Prefecture's Ibaraki. (Video by Kuniaki Nishio)

IBARAKI, Osaka Prefecture--Just the ticket for motorists who find driving stressful, a new head spa that relieves stress while the vehicle drives itself has started test runs.

The bed-shaped vehicle featuring head spa treatment service, developed by four employees of Kansai Electric Power Co., began testing here on Jan. 15.

The alfresco treatment offered in the driverless car is expected to be offered to the public from April.

Teaming with popular Kyoto-based head spa salon chain Goku no Kimochi, Kansai Electric Power is seeking to commercialize the autonomous vehicle “iino.” The head massage service on an automated vehicle will be offered at commercial facilities, amusement parks and other facilities from April after verifying its safety, as well as the service provided during the test, which is scheduled to run until March.

During the trial runs on its premises of Kansai Electric Power’s training center in Osaka Prefecture's Ibaraki, a therapist clad in kimono and hakama, traditional Japanese attire, was giving a woman a head spa treatment.

The therapist massaged her scalp with rhythmic finger movements to knead out the knots in her head while she was lying on tatami straw mats on the vehicle about 3 meters long and 2 meters wide under a large waterproof red umbrella. The car was traveling at a speed of about 3 to 5 kph.

“I want customers to feel the change of the seasons in the sky, the wind and the smell while having our treatments,” said Momoka Yamazaki, a therapist of the salon.

When encountering possible obstacles, the robotic vehicle can stop or avoid them by detecting such objects with several cameras and sensors equipped in the vehicle, which drives along routes on a registered map.

Since it runs on electricity, users can enjoy a calm, comfortable and smooth ride in the driverless vehicle without being annoyed by the sounds of a loud engine.

The iino offers a “heavenly” ride experience in which passengers feel as if they are flying in the sky while lying on their backs.

The unique head spa service has no plan at the moment to operate on public roads or streets.

Aiming to offset the drop in the electricity demand due to dwindling populations and other factors, Kansai Electric Power is focused on developing new businesses. The iino project is part of that effort.

After developing the iino by combining technologies of start-up companies in and outside Japan and considering the usage of the vehicles as well as potential partners, the employees decided on a head spa as the first commercial service offered.

“We want to expand the service such as offering alcoholic beverages just like at a bar as well as creating a space where people can enjoy manzai, a Japanese traditional style of stand-up comedy, while riding on the iino,” said Kengo Moriwaki, 31, one of the team members who developed the iino.