Video footage taken on Sept. 7 shows a self-driving vehicle being hailed by a smartphone app for a ride on public roads in Yokohama. The vehicle, based on Nissan Motor Co.’s e-NV200 electric-powered minivan, uses more than 20 cameras and sensors to navigate obstacles on over 500 possible predetermined routes, with 23 pickup and drop-off points available. Nissan and mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc. will conduct the trial from Sept. 21 to Oct. 30. A human driver will be on board to oversee the vehicle’s moves. (Tomohiro Yamamoto)

YOKOHAMA--The future where a passenger will hail a self-driving taxi by pressing a pick-up point on their smartphones is becoming a reality for the first time here. 

An autonomous transit service is being tested on public roads in Yokohama under a joint endeavor by Nissan Motor Co. and NTT Docomo Inc. from Sept. 21.

“We want to determine issues under real-life conditions that must be resolved before commercializing the technology,” said Kazuhiro Doi, a corporate vice president of Nissan.

The experiment involves multiple fields on which the auto industry is currently aggressively working, such as connected cars and self-driving technology.

Combining the self-operating method with artificial intelligence (AI) to determine optimized car allocations and routes, the trial aims to identify challenges facing the practical application of the offering.

The test is being carried out in a 2-square-kilometer area around the Minato Mirai district near Yokohama Station and the city’s Chinatown. If one of 23 pick-up points on a smartphone are chosen, AI will dispatch a nearby vehicle to the location. 

The driver-less version of a Nissan e-NV200 electric minivan is available in the trial, and up to three passengers can ride in each of the four participating vehicles at a time.

While an official is deployed to the driver’s seat just in case, the automobiles accelerate, slow and take curves automatically while scanning the surroundings with more than 20 cameras and sensors.

The vehicle allocations, course decisions and remote monitoring are arranged by NTT Docomo.

Although NTT Docomo had previously helped distribute automobiles with AI in 46 regions in Tokyo, Hokkaido and 19 prefectures nationwide, it is the first time for the company to utilize self-operating cars or electric vehicles.

For that reason, new features have been added to open doors through smartphones and to check battery levels via telecommunications.

The test will continue through Oct. 30 with 200 individuals who were selected from applicants participating.